Power generation with “iron”? American start-ups claim to make a breakthrough in battery life, which can be used for several days at a time


Tencent technology news on July 23, form energy, an American battery startup, said on Thursday that the company has developed a cheap battery that can use iron, one of the most common elements on earth, to discharge.
Although the battery developed by form energy is too heavy for electric vehicles, it has the ability to solve one of the most elusive problems faced by renewable energy: to store a large amount of electricity into the grid cheaply in the absence of sunlight and wind.
Due to the confidentiality agreement, the products developed by form energy have never been exposed for a long time. The company recently disclosed its recent development progress to the media, saying it wants regulators and utility companies to realize that if everything goes according to plan, its iron air battery will become an affordable long-term power storage mode by 2025.
Form energy’s investors include the breakthrough energy ventures fund, which is jointly established by business leaders such as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Form energy has recently completed a $200 million financing involving steelmaking giant ArcelorMittal.
Mateo Jaramillo, chief executive of form energy, which developed Powerwall batteries at Tesla, said the company was preparing to produce “the kind of batteries that you need to completely eliminate thermal assets such as coal and natural gas” soon. During a recent visit to form energy’s windowless laboratory, jayamillo pointed to a bucket filled with low-cost iron balls as a key advantage in its fast-growing battery field. Its prototype battery, nicknamed “Big Jim”, is filled with 18000 pebble sized gray iron blocks, a rich, non-toxic and nonflammable mineral.
For electric vehicles and lithium-ion batteries, the main force of today’s grid scale batteries, the storage costs of nickel, cobalt, lithium and manganese minerals currently used range from $50 to $80 per kilowatt hour, market analysts said. Using iron, form energy believes it will spend less than $6 per kilowatt hour to store the materials of each battery. Assembling these cells into a complete battery system will raise the price to less than $20 per kilowatt hour. At this level, scholars say that renewable energy combined with storage can completely replace traditional fossil fuel power plants.
Due to the problems solved and the potential market created, a battery that can discharge cheaply for several days has always been the Holy Grail of the energy industry. As countries around the world seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions related to climate change, regulators and power companies face increasing pressure to provide affordable, reliable and carbon free electricity.
The Biden administration is pushing the United States to achieve a carbon free power grid by 2035, and many states and power companies in the United States have made similar commitments. It is generally believed that wind, solar, geothermal and nuclear power combined with short-term lithium batteries can generate 80% of the electricity. The final 20% will require some type of multi day storage battery to provide.
“The first 80% of us know the technical approach, and it is already cost competitive,” said Jeremiah Baumann, deputy chief of staff of the Ministry of energy“ We have a good understanding of the technology of the final work. The real question is which technology will reduce costs and enter the market. ”
As a series of start-ups compete to develop more advanced and cost-effective energy storage technologies, form energy’s batteries will compete with many other methods in this increasingly crowded field. Several companies are introducing different battery configurations to the market, such as solid-state designs. Some people think that pumped storage or compressed air can be more widely used to store electricity. The European Union is promoting the use of hydrogen for storage and power generation.
At the same time, others are focusing on carbon capture technology to make gas and coal-fired power plants zero emissions, which will reduce the demand for stored energy. Form energy’s iron air battery inhales oxygen, converts iron into rust, then converts rust into iron, releases oxygen, and charges and discharges the battery in the process.
“New storage technologies broke out in the Cambrian, and not all of them can survive from the perspective of Darwinism. But the return is huge for both investors and society, “said ramez Naam, a clean energy investor who did not participate in the investment in form energy.
Previous high-profile efforts to develop better batteries have changed from hope and speculation to bankruptcy. However, since its establishment in 2017, form energy has attracted speculation and intrigue in the industry due to the past records of its founders: Jia yamillo and MIT professor YT Ming Chiang jointly founded lithium battery pioneer A123 system company. Jayamillo earned a master’s degree and an economics degree from Yale Theological Seminary, then moved on to a career in developing new batteries. After more than seven years at Tesla, he left in 2016 to pursue what he called “the next thing” on his LinkedIn page. He didn’t provide any details, but he wanted to make a cheap battery for the grid. When Jiang Yeming called him, he was about to sign up for a new company.
Jiang Yeming came to MIT as an undergraduate and joined it less than ten years later. As part of the cooperation of the Ministry of energy, he began to study long-life batteries in 2012. In 2017, while he continued to study long-term batteries, he and haramilio decided to create form energy together.
They recruited senior staff from other battery industries“ The founding team has 100 years of battery experience, “said Jiang Yeming“ We are a collection of a generation of failed battery companies, and they all come back for more. ”

In early 2018, they started small-scale testing. In 2020, with the rapid progress of work, form energy has ushered in a rest. It requires a key battery module called a cathode, which is impermeable but can breathe oxygen, just like a Gore Tex jacket. At the end of last summer, form energy built a one meter high (about 3.3 feet high) battery, which is called Slim Jim because it is the size of a garbage can with the same name. Earlier this year, it built the Big Jim, a full-size meter by meter battery. If it works as expected, 20 of these batteries will be combined into one battery. Thousands of such batteries will be strung together to fill the warehouse and store for weeks. It may take several days to fully charge these battery systems, but the batteries can discharge continuously for 150 hours.
In 2023, form energy plans to deploy a 1 MW battery that can discharge continuously for more than six days, and said it is negotiating with several utility companies on battery deployment( Compiled by Tencent technology / Wuji)