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Battery Breakthrough: Rust

By Dick Weisinger

Joe Biden is pushing an agenda that promotes renewable energies like solar and wind. A major roadblock towards achieving greater use of these alternative energies though is the ability to store them during off-peak periods. Improved storage technologies will be able to make renewable energies a more sensible alternative to fossil fuels.

Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of the California Solar and Storage Association, said that “energy storage is the true bridge to a clean-energy future.”

Yet-Ming Chiang, a materials science and engineering professor at MIT, agrees, saying that “low-cost storage is the key to enabling renewable electricity to compete with fossil fuel generated electricity on a cost basis”.

Many startup have seized on the opportunity to develop low-cost storage technologies.

Ramez Naam, a clean-energy investor, said that “there is a Cambrian explosion of new storage technologies and in a Darwinian sense, they are not all going to survive. But the prize is huge both for investors and for society.”

One company that has made a splash is Form Energy of Somerville, Massachusetts. Form Energy has developed a battery that is based on just low-cost iron and air and is 1/10 the cost of lithium-ion batteries. Their battery is capable of charging and discharging by taking in oxygen, converting the iron to rust, and then converting the rust back into iron.

Ted Wiley, COO of Form Energy, said that “we’ve completed the science. What’s left to do is scale up from lab-scale protoypes to grid-scale power plants. In full production the modules will produce electricity for one-tenth the cost of any technology available today for grid storage.”

Mateo Jaramillo, CEO of Form Energy, said that “we conducted a broad review of available technologies and have reinvented the iron-air battery to optimize it for multi-day energy storage for the electric grid. With this technology, we are tackling the biggest barrier to deep decarbonization: making renewable energy available when and where it’s needed, even during multiple days of extreme weather or grid outages.” Jaramillo said that Form Energy’s battery will be the “kind of battery you need to fully retire thermal assets like coal and natural gas power plants.”

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