New rusty batteries could provide up to 100 hours of storage

The new technology could revolutionize the industry.
Loukia Papadopoulos
An illustration of energy storage.jpg
An illustration of energy storage.

Petmal/iStock 

U.S. company Form Energy has invented a technology that could be a key breakthrough for the long-duration storage of solar and wind power, according to an article by Scientific American published on Wednesday. 

The firm claims the innovation, known as the "iron-air battery," could help decarbonize the nation's power sector more cheaply than lithium-ion storage systems while using only domestic readily available materials.

Expensive and somewhat impractical

Today's lithium-ion batteries require expensive materials, such as lithium, cobalt, nickel, and graphite, that originate mostly from other countries. The new battery, however, stores electricity using simple iron metal through the principle of "reversible rusting." 

This means the battery converts iron metal to rust when discharging while it converts the rust back to iron when charging.

Iron-air batteries were first evaluated in the early 1970s for use in electric vehicles. Today, however, more recent data implies that they could help promote and diversify the country's future supplies of green electric power for utilities, told Scientific American George Crabtree, director of the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research at Argonne National Laboratory.

Iron-air batteries are much larger than lithium-ion ones and can store and discharge power for as long as 100 hours. This is a significantly larger amount than the four hours provided by lithium-ion batteries.

In past statements, Form Energy has said its iron-air technology will be able to "store electricity for 100 hours at system costs competitive with legacy power plants. The company's pioneering multi-day battery will reshape the electric system to reliably run on 100% low-cost renewable energy, every day of the year."

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A site for the first factory chosen

Power Magazine has further reported that Form Energy has already picked a site for its first factory. It will be located in Weirton, West Virginia, and construction will begin in 2023.

Speaking during Thursday's announcement of the new factory, Mateo Jaramillo, Form Energy's CEO and co-founder, called Weirton "a historic steel community that sits on a river and has the rich heritage and know-how to make great things out of iron."

He further said that "to reach renewable energy independence, to meet supply-chain challenges, to run the grid reliably and affordably, we need new, domestically manufactured energy-storage technologies capable of cost-effectively storing electricity for multiple days."

Jaramillo also added that his company expects "to be generating meaningful revenue in 2025."

The initial storage battery is currently far too big and heavy for use in vehicles. That may not always be the case, however, as researchers work to decrease its size and increase its applications.

That is still a long time away and, for now, lithium-ion batteries are thriving. Snow Lake Lithium has made ambitious plans to launch the world's first all-electric lithium mine in Canada. Meanwhile, innovations in the field are constantly being reported that increase the efficiency and practicality of the batteries.