With a nearly $500-million company finance package from backers that include tech titan Bill Gates and other high--profile corporate names, and a projected $290-million state investment incentive, battery storage entrepreneur Form Energy Inc. will locate its first, and first in the U.S., “aqueous air” battery storage manufacturing plant in Weirton, W.Va. 

The $760-million facility is set for a former steel mill site that will use iron, water and air as key components to produce batteries at less cost and with longer storage duration than those made from lithium-ion, which require hard to find critical minerals. The Somerville, Mass., firm said it selected the West Virginia site after considering hundreds of locations in 16 states over the past year. 

“The funds put toward this project are guaranteed, secured and collateralized through ownership of all land and buildings by the state,” said West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice. 

Form Energy expects to start plant construction in 2023 and begin manufacturing iron-air battery systems in 2024 for broad commercialization. 

Firm CEO and co-founder Mateo Jaramillo, a former top executive at Tesla, noted the site location near the Ohio River, its abundance of materials and the experience of its local workforce “to make great things out of iron.” 

A Form Energy spokeswoman told ENR the project, now in the design phase, currently targets a 700,000-sq-ft footprint, with about 1 million sq ft of manufacturing space, but noted that the numbers are not final. The factory will have an annual manufacturing capacity of 500 MW.

She did not disclose names of design and construction contractors involved or being considered, but said that the project "intends to build strong partnerships with labor unions as part of our construction efforts and will request that all construction bidders include union labor when possible." 

The development timetable was also expedited with long-term federal tax incentives offered to clean energy manufacturing by this year's climate law, the Inflation Reduction Act, enacted in August. “It makes everybody feel that much more confident,” Jaramillo said in October, following the firm's most recent investor funding round that raised about $452 million.

Better for Intermittent Power

The planned factory will produce batteries that can manage intermittency of renewable energy such as wind and solar for U.S. power grids “without sacrificing reliability or cost,” said Form Energy, adding that its battery “is capable of storing electricity for 100 hours at system costs competitive with legacy power plants.” 

Lithium-ion batteries, which are used in EV cars and for utility-scale storage, discharge electric power for about four hours. China now dominates the global lithium-ion battery market.

“Through rigorous R&D and product engineering, our 100-hour battery product is ready to scale," said Jaramillo. "The funding will accelerate our abiity to responsibly build a globally competitive U.S. battery manufacturing supply chain and advance American innovation.” 

Form Energy, founded in 2017, seeks to commercialize a process referred to as "reversible rusting," it said. When discharging, the battery breathes in oxygen from the air and converts pellets of iron to rust; while charging, an electrical current converts the rust back to iron and the battery breathes out oxygen, it said. 

“As we start to get to these deeper penetrations of renewable energies, we need something that’s a bit different from what lithium-ion can do,” said Jaramillo in a 2021 media interview. 

The firm also recently said it has signed contracts to build pilot-scale battery storage facilities for Georgia Power Co. and Great River Energy, Minnesota’s second-largest electric utility, both targeting reduced coal dependence.  The latter's facility, expected on line in 2024, will be the first commercial deployment of Form's technology—a 1-MW/150-MWh demonstration plant that will be able to provide 1 MW of power output for 150 straight hours.

Since its founding, the company has raised $832 million from investors, including Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and ArcelorMittal SA, a Luxembourg-based multinational steel company that will be an iron material supplier to the plant.  

New investors, as of the October financing, include the Canada Pension Board and MIT’s investment fund, called The Engine. Yet-Ming Chiang, a materials expert who teaches at the university, is Form Energy's chief science officer.

"The development of reliable, long duration energy storage technology is critical for the global transition to renewable energy,” said Leon Pedersen, the pension board fund's managing director .

Commercial Metals Co. also announced that it had selected Berkeley County, West Va., to locate its fourth micro steel mill, a $450-million facility that will produce rebar when expected operation begins in late 2025.