A Breakthrough in Battery Design to Make Large Scale Renewable Energy Practical? Or another Cold Fusion?

A Breakthrough in Battery Design to Make Large Scale Renewable Energy Practical? Or another Cold Fusion?

Or another "Cold Fusion"?

Updated July 24, 2021

The Wall Street Journal reports that a start-up, Form Energy Inc., has a new design of rechargeable batter based on an Iron to Air ion exchange  that can make large scale renewable energy practical.

The problem with using renewable sources of energy, like solar, wind, ocean currents a replacement for tradition coal, natural gas  and oil power plants:

  • the amount and location of land required for the renewable source;
    and
  • The ability to store the energy generated for periods when the source is not available, like nighttime, cloudy days and days when the wind isn't blowing.

Current rechargeable batteries are so expensive as to make them completely impractical for large scale use to replace fixed power plants. An inexpensive battery that that can be scaled up to inexpensively and reliably store large amounts of energy for days would be a game-changer.

So, along comes Form Energy with it's inexpensive Iron-to-Air battery technology.

Lithium-ion battery cells are reliable and found in many devices from your cell phone to electric vehicles.  But to make them power grid-scale batteries would be prohibitively expensive, as the rare earth metals such as nickel, cobalt, lithium and manganese minerals used in the batteries cost between $50 and $80 per kilowatt-hour of storage.

But Form Energy's iron batteries' materials cost less than $6 per kilowatt-hour of storage; or less than $20 per kilowatt-hour for a complete storage system.

How does it work?

The batteries reversibly use energy from any source (obviously including photovoltaic solar cells, wind turbines, etc. to combine oxygen with iron to produce iron oxide (rust) and reverse the process. In a way, this is similar to how your body takes in oxygen and combines it with an energy source, food, broken down to simple sugars, to release the energy and store it in forms your body can use later (glycogen, fat, etc)

Iron is cheap, but it has one drawback; it's heavy, so these would only be practical in fixed locations, not electric vehicles.

When and How is this Coming?

The WSJ reports that Form Energy's backers include "Breakthrough Energy Ventures", whose investors include Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. .The company claims its iron-air batteries should be commercially available by 2025.

Those are some heavy hitters, so the question remains, is this a pie-in-the-sky venture that will not pan out, as "cold fusion" did; or is this a genuine breakthrough that could make the move away from fossil fuels acheivable on a large scale? Only time will tell.

We will continue to monitor developments and update this page as they occur!

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