Form Energy, a secretive, long-duration energy storage startup funded by Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and other investors is unstealthing — sort of.
The company has revealed that its fundamental energy storage technology is an “aqueous air battery system” that “leverages some of the safest, cheapest, most abundant materials on the planet” in order to commercially deploy a 1 MW/150 MWh long-duration storage solution.
Typical lithium ion battery storage systems provide four hours of storage compared to Form’s remarkable of 150 hours of storage. It’s not exactly the “seasonal” storage that Mateo Jaramillo, CEO of Form Energy, had spoken of in the past — but it’s a few orders of magnitude better than what can be done today.
(Although the term, “aqueous air battery system,” leaves us little more informed about the startup’s technology than when it was stealthed.)
The CEO, an energy storage veteran, has referred to the company’s product as a “bi-directional power plant” and claims that this level of duration allows for “a fundamentally new reliability function to be provided to the grid from storage, one historically only available from thermal generation resources.”
The first project
Form Energy’s first commercial project is a 1 MW, grid-connected storage system capable of delivering its rated power continuously for 150 hours with Minnesota-based utility Great River Energy.
Great River Energy is a not-for-profit wholesale electric power cooperative that provides electricity to 28 member-owner distribution cooperatives, serving 700,000 families, farms and businesses. It’s Minnesota’s second-largest electric utility.
“Commercially viable long-duration storage could increase reliability by ensuring that the power generated by renewable energy is available at all hours to serve our membership. Such storage could be particularly important during extreme weather conditions that last several days. Long-duration storage also provides an excellent hedge against volatile energy prices,” said Great River Energy VP Jon Brekke, in a release.
“A true low-cost, long-duration energy storage solution that can sustain output for days, would fill gaps in wind and solar energy production that would otherwise require firing up a fossil-fueled power plant,” said Jesse Jenkins, an assistant professor at Princeton University.
True low-cost, long-duration energy storage has always been the missing piece in making intermittent wind and solar act like baseload thermal generation year-round.
While there’s been a lot of chatter about long-duration energy storage, other than pumped hydro, there’s been little in the form of commercial deployment. Companies that have pursued long-duration energy storage include:
- Flow battery firms such as Primus, Invinity, Sumitomo, UET, ESS and ViZn
- Gravity-based approaches such as Gravity Power, Ares Power, and Energy Vault
- Compressed air or gas approaches such as Hydrostor and Highview Power
Founded in 2017, Form Energy has raised over $50 million in funding. The company is backed by investors Eni Next LLC, MIT’s The Engine, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Prelude Ventures, Capricorn Investment Group and Macquarie Capital.
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“While there’s been a lot of chatter about long-duration energy storage, other than pumped hydro, there’s been little in the form of commercial deployment. Companies that have pursued long-duration energy storage include:”
Flow battery firms such as Primus, Invinity, Sumitomo, UET, ESS and ViZn
Gravity-based approaches such as Gravity Power, Ares Power, and Energy Vault
Compressed air or gas approaches such as Hydrostor and Highview Power
Don’t know if it’s true or not, ran across another article that (claimed) this system at 1MW/150MWh can be constructed on 1 acre of land. (IF) true, this sounds more compact than Highview Power’s LAES system. One could actually put a one acre energy storage facility at the end of each solar PV string, or wind turbine string to store the power and switch it out later in increments of 1MW of generation. No more need to “curtail” all of this non-fueled generation to use fueled generation to ramp around grid demands. One can store in increments and generate in increments. The flexibility of a large solar PV farm would be above and beyond any fueled generation facility online now.
Or a 10 acre plant with 1.5GWh capacity could avoid curtailment and enable arbitrage for multiple solar and/or wind facilities.
Not holding my breath as likely can’t charge but 1Mw too and just takes up too much space, weight, not unlike the failed salt battery this might be.
Since 1Mw is only good for .5-1k homes, you’ll need a lot of them.
They would be far smarter going with metal/air batteries with the effective density of diesel, seasonal storage viable now if you reform instead of recharging.
And you can reform/recharge them with solar thermal refining to burn off the oxides.
So, at 1MW per acre, to generate 1TW (US electric capacity) you’d need 1,000,000 acres of batteries. Which is a lot of land. But it’s also a lot less than the 20,000,000 or so acres currently devoted to growing corn for ethanol production. So, the land itself doesn’t seem to be an insurmountable issue. Whether the battery is functional, safe, economical, and can super-scale seem to me to be the big the unknowns here. Which leaves it as almost all unknowns. We’ll see, I guess.
That does seem like a lot of space to take up; I suspect this gives competing zinc-air batteries a competitive advantage.
So, if I understand correctly, the maximum discharge rate is 1MW for a 150MWh AA (aqueous air) battery. Is that also the charge rate? Would it take 150 hours to charge the battery to capacity, or would it take less time? Or more? It would certainly be more convenient if it could be charged faster – the windows of peak time for solar in particular tend to be only a few hours a day. I suppose it would be possible to dump the peak solar into a faster-charging, but lower capacity battery (like lithium ion) and then trickle-charge the AA battery. It would add to the cost of the system, though.
Overall, interesting. Looking forward to learning more.
Rachel, if my pilot-sense and scale notions are correct, courtesy would have us never calling them AA batteries over Form Energy Breather Batteries (FEBBs? Also no?), and the batteries don’t need the solar territory (or the top extent) all over again much less per-nation centralization…I see you were running with Solarman’s figures now, thanks. It certainly does beg the question of improving unarable land for the natural value (forest, built environs, etc.) It’s a whole new world of unlivable basement!
I’m about the overall system and its design. A lot of the lithium ion batteries proposed are built around power blocks of storage and generation in cargo containers. Something like 10MW/400MWh could be a total of 10MWh of generation with 40 hours maximum generation capacity or if designed properly 2MWh at 200 hours maximum generation capacity. As stated, this is a 1MWh for 150 hours maximum generation resource, unless there’s some neat trick to fast charging off of the grid, it seems like something that might work as a “wave” charge state machine. Connect to solar PV strings in a solar farm and charge with over generation in waves of strings while still meeting demands of loads on the grid. Switch the stored energy out in 1MWh increments and sum this generation output until the demand on the grid is met.
150 hours seems like overkill. More is better, but the “holy grail” battery will get recharged with dirt cheap PV every 24 hours, no? (excluding the occasional locust plague). :-/
Or will it be green hydrogen? Seems to be gaining momentum in EU. Thoughts?
From what is said here, I really don’t see this as a breakthrough (no pun intended) unless the cost is pennies per kWh. Any Tesla Megapack can be throttled down to deliver energy at 0.0067 C-rate (1/150). If it is bilateral in the sense that it takes just as long to recharge, then it’s not really practical in Time of Use energy shifting of wind and solar generation.
If it does take up an acre of land, I would suggest installing 100 – 40′ containers of supercapacitors on that acre. You could drain them at 0.0067 C if you like, but you could also recharge them at 1.7 C. A much more useful solution with capability to provide up to a million charge/discharge cycles with no degradation. And commercially available today!
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