Can you please walk us through the idea behind the iron-air battery technology and the advantages it has in the larger context of the energy transition?
When I left Tesla it was clear to me that there remained a gap in the market of energy storage, that lithium-ion - although fantastic - would not be able to fill. Form’s iron-air battery technology is an energy storage solution that allows for a 100% renewable, reliable and cost-effective grid where the CapEx is between 1/10th and 1/20th the cost of lithium-ion.
Iron is scalable (and is the second most mined substance on Earth after coal), low cost and safe to work with - humans have been doing it for 3000 years now, and as a result, we can effectively embody it in a battery.
As no form of energy storage is perfect, the trick is to find the right combination of trade-offs to solve the problems at hand.
At Form Energy, we are trading efficiency for a very low entitlement cost, and that's the right trade to make. We developed a software, called Formware™, that helps us understand these very complex co-optimized systems (which electric grids are) and allows to make the right decision to achieve decarbonization reliably and at the lowest cost.
Why did you choose efficiency as your trade-off and what are other disadvantages that iron-air batteries carry, and that people should be aware of?
One way batteries are measured is through their roundtrip efficiency. Lithium-ion batteries are about 95% efficient at a cell level, while our battery has an approximate 50% round trip efficiency. By comparison, thermal plants are 30% efficient, but our whole modern economy is built on this inefficient thermal resource since coal and gas are so cheap (or rather, used to be). Our iron-air chemistry would never be suitable for cell phones or laptops, but it's the perfect solution for the decarbonization of the electric grid and deep incorporation of renewable power into the electric system.
Are you selling Formware™ apart from the batteries themselves and if so, how can companies best utilize it?
Formware™ is used for both internal and external purposes We use it in-house to understand the trade-offs and we use it externally when working with utilities, but it's not an enterprise piece of software that we sell or provide access to yet. We're actively thinking about how to evolve this product with additional external facing uses, as having the right modeling tools is essential to optimal grid integration. Along those lines, we have a grant, along with E3, in California to develop "the resource model" for the State to provide an understanding around how their system could evolve in a zero-carbon future.
What has the reception of your technology been like at home, in North America, and are you looking to expand to other jurisdictions as well?
In the United States our potential buyers are regulated utilities. After giving us their real data, we've been able to model their goals up to 2035 and we found out that with our technology the cost across the board would be 30% to 40% lower. So, the reception has been extremely positive, since we walked them through the process of how this multi-day energy storage asset can help them achieve their goals, rather than simply pushing our technology forward. There has also been international interest already, from the European, Asian and Australian markets. For the time being we are a 300 people startup and need to pace ourselves especially before we start the manufacturing stage.
What is a realistic dimension of the deployment that can be expected for the next few years in wind and solar energy in the US, looking at available grid and storage technologies?
The US is accelerating renewable power development, primarily because it is the lowest cost available thing to do. The Inflation Reduction Act recently passed only strengthens and speeds up this process. Looking at the commitments that have been made by states or utilities themselves the question is how fast they will transition, not if they will transition. Even traditionally red states like Georgia or Florida are riding this wave, with Texas having the most amount of renewable power generation in the country.
How far do you believe Form Energy to be in achieving success and commercializing your technology?
For us, success is having a very large impact, the end goal being to directly trace the use of our technology to the reduction of the global carbon footprint. We're in the phase of moving from developing the technology to manufacturing and our first deployments are expected to be online in roughly two years. Manufacturing in very large volumes with low cost and high quality is the main challenge now, but we're extremely confident in our technology and equally grateful for the amazing manufacturing infrastructure the United States has. Iron-air batteries are incredibly heavy so shortening the logistics chain is vital.
Do you have a final message about the future of energy storage?
I would like to underline the idea that the iron-air batteries that we're developing are not competing with lithium-ion. Only by working in tandem will we achieve the right combination of low cost and efficiency to get energy storage to where it needs to be. In the future I see a massive scale up in deployment, with the multi-day storage class happening faster than most people think.
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