Lithium-ion batteries are one of the most popular forms of energy storage in the world. However, these batteries are expensive, require raw materials from unstable geopolitical regions, and are not fully removed from fire or explosion risk in extreme conditions.
An American energy storage company, Form Energy, is taking a different approach and is instead developing an “aqueous air battery system” that uses low-cost iron, water, and air. Form Energy’s innovative iron-air technology promises to outperform lithium big battery projects at 10% of the cost.
The company claims that its novel iron-air battery is designed to store clean energy affordably for 100 hours, far more than the four or six hours of storage that lithium-ion batteries provide today. Made from iron, which Form says is one of the safest, cheapest, and most abundant minerals on Earth, this front-of-the-meter battery can be used continuously over a multi-day period and will enable a reliable, secure, and fully renewable electric grid year-round.
Each individual battery module is about the size of a side-by-side washer/dryer set and contains a stack of approximately 50 one-meter-tall cells. The cells include iron and air electrodes and are filled with water-based, non-flammable electrolytes. These battery modules are grouped together in environmentally protected enclosures, and hundreds of these enclosures are grouped together in modular megawatt-scale power blocks. Depending on the system size, tens to hundreds of these power blocks will be connected to the electricity grid. At scale, they’ll deliver more than 3 MW of output capacity per acre.
In December last year, the company announced it had chosen a site to set up its first iron-air battery manufacturing facility: 55 acres of property in the northern panhandle of West Virginia, along the Ohio River, in the city of Weirton. The new battery manufacturing plant is expected to create a minimum of 750 new full-time jobs and will represent a total investment of up to $760 million.
“The funds put toward this project are guaranteed, secured, and collateralized through ownership of all land and buildings by the state,” West Virginia Governor Jim Justice said. “The West Virginia Economic Development Authority allocated $75 million toward the purchase of land and the construction of buildings in Weirton this morning. I plan on working with the West Virginia Legislature and our federal partners to obtain an additional $215 million needed to finalize our agreement.”
Form Energy expects to start construction of its Weirton factory in 2023 and begin manufacturing iron-air battery systems in 2024 for broad commercialization.