From pv magazine USA
Form Energy, a secretive, long-duration energy storage startup funded by Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and other investors is unstealthing — sort of.
The company has revealed that its fundamental energy storage technology is an “aqueous air battery system” that “leverages some of the safest, cheapest, most abundant materials on the planet” in order to commercially deploy a 1 MW/150 MWh long-duration storage solution.
Typical lithium ion battery storage systems provide four hours of storage compared to Form’s remarkable of 150 hours of storage. It’s not exactly the “seasonal” storage that Mateo Jaramillo, CEO of Form Energy, had spoken of in the past — but it’s a few orders of magnitude better than what can be done today.
(Although the term, “aqueous air battery system,” leaves us little more informed about the startup’s technology than when it was stealthed.)
The CEO, an energy storage veteran, has referred to the company’s product as a “bi-directional power plant” and claims that this level of duration allows for “a fundamentally new reliability function to be provided to the grid from storage, one historically only available from thermal generation resources.”
The first project
Form Energy’s first commercial project is a 1 MW, grid-connected storage system capable of delivering its rated power continuously for 150 hours with Minnesota-based utility Great River Energy.
Great River Energy is a not-for-profit wholesale electric power cooperative that provides electricity to 28 member-owner distribution cooperatives, serving 700,000 families, farms and businesses. It’s Minnesota’s second-largest electric utility.
“Commercially viable long-duration storage could increase reliability by ensuring that the power generated by renewable energy is available at all hours to serve our membership. Such storage could be particularly important during extreme weather conditions that last several days. Long-duration storage also provides an excellent hedge against volatile energy prices,” said Great River Energy VP Jon Brekke, in a release.
“A true low-cost, long-duration energy storage solution that can sustain output for days, would fill gaps in wind and solar energy production that would otherwise require firing up a fossil-fueled power plant,” said Jesse Jenkins, an assistant professor at Princeton University.
True low-cost, long-duration energy storage has always been the missing piece in making intermittent wind and solar act like baseload thermal generation year-round.
While there’s been a lot of chatter about long-duration energy storage, other than pumped hydro, there’s been little in the form of commercial deployment. Companies that have pursued long-duration energy storage include:
- Flow battery firms such as Primus, Invinity, Sumitomo, UET, ESS and ViZn
- Gravity-based approaches such as Gravity Power, Ares Power, and Energy Vault
- Compressed air or gas approaches such as Hydrostor and Highview Power
Founded in 2017, Form Energy has raised over $50 million in funding. The company is backed by investors Eni Next LLC, MIT’s The Engine, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Prelude Ventures, Capricorn Investment Group and Macquarie Capital.
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These claims of long duration storage are completely misleading. Any energy storage system has maximum energy storage specification. How long the duration of the discharge is, is determined by how fast you draw out the energy, that, is what power is being provided. There will be a maximum power that can drawn, set either by the battery characteristics or the power electronics. This will set the minimum duration over which all the stored energy can be released. The is a maximum duration set by the internal self discharge of the batteries but in nearly all systems on the market this will be many weeks.
Between those limits, by controlling the power taken, the duration of supplying power can be selected at will. With a system with 100 MWh energy storage, 25 MW can be supplied for 4 hours, 10 MW can be supplied for 10 hours, 1 MW can be supplied for 100 hours and 500 kW can be supplied for 200 hours.
It is only economics and the way providers of stored energy are paid that means lithium battery systems are normally operated will a short duration discharge of about 4 hours of so. If you discharge at a low power over a long time, this will restrict the number of times you can charge and discharge over a year. If you are only (or mainly) paid for the energy delivered this will cut your annual income.
Flow batteries have much greater freedom of adjusting independently the power rating in MW (number and size electrochemical cells) and stored energy in MWh (number and size of tanks of reactants). If to reduce costs, small electrochemical cells and large tanks are chosen, the maximum power that can be drawn will be will be reduced and hence the minimum duration over which all the energy can be extracted increased. Apart from the savings on the cost of the system this is a disadvantage, not an advantage, any system can increase its discharge time by lowering the output power. There may be cases where the savings in the system costs compensate for the loss in the amount of energy stored and then discharged over the year but it is not obviously so.
For the new system to be economically viable at 160 hour discharge rates it will have to have greatly reduced cost per MWh stored.
But the company is not claiming that it can provide power for X hours of energy. They are claiming an energy capacity of 150 MWh. There is nothing misleading about that. And yes, depending on the current drawn, the hours of energy supply can be as low as 150 hours drawn at the maximum 1 MW, or 1 million hours (114 years) if drawn at only 150 W. Their claim is in MWh and not in hours.
With chemical batteries, including flow batteries, the energy capacity offered is usually 4x or 8x the power capacity, and it quickly becomes prohibitively expensive at 20x. But with this company the energy stored is 150x the power capacity, thus let’s say 10x cheaper to store energy compared to batteries.
I agree with Nick. Their stated mission is long-duration energy storage, not large MWh capacity, which Tesla Megapacks do nicely. Per Tesla:
“Using Megapack, Tesla can deploy an emissions-free 250 MW, 1 GWh power plant in less than three months on a three-acre footprint – four times faster than a traditional fossil fuel power plant of that size. Megapack can also be DC-connected directly to solar, creating seamless renewable energy plants.”
That said, the real question revolves around the other part of their mission which is “ultra-low cost”. That would be the real breakthrough. They don’t define that in their statement and I’d be interested to know what they consider ultra-low cost to be. Any low cost storage that can be cycled daily would be extremely valuable in enabling greater adoption of renewable energy resources. But, they have to be able to cycle. Lithium Ion Chemical storage falls down on this criteria. They simply don’t have the lifetime cycling capability to provide an affordable TOU energy shift solution.
Flow batteries may be able to provide greater cycling. Supercapacitors certainly will.
So, now that they’ve stated they can provide a trickle charge to the grid, the question that comes to mind is “how fast can they discharge and once discharged how fast can they be recharged?” If they can’t absorb renewable energy at a rate in the range of 0.5 to 1.5C, they’re not useful in expanding the integration of renewables and if they can’t support peak hour loads, their use is very limited… it better be cheap!
This article creates more questions than it answers. Where is the real breakthrough?
I’m a postgraduate student at University Science of Malaysia, currently doing research on wind integrated energy system reliability, demand response and Battery Energy Storage System.
I’m fascinated with your technology and very interested to learn more about it.
If you read this article, it clearly says the company is NOT disclosing any details about their technology.
wow! that’s exciting! nice to see them partnering with a not-for-profit cooperative too, ensuring the community and the engineering gets the best value, and an equitable say in how these systems get run!
Co-ops are very inefficient and top-heavy. They also receive a lot of taxpayer money.
I suspect the “aqueous air” technology is hydro electromechanical, where water is stored in pressurized tanks, as opposed to elevated tanks. If so, it can’t compete with pumped storage, currently the cheapest energy battery with a round trip efficiency of 70 – 75%.
Hopefully the company will disclose some details about their technology if your suspicions are correct!
I doubt it. Gates usually funds better projects than that, and if that’s all it was… would not have taken years to develop.
The information released by Form Energy (as cited in this article) is so vague that this claimed Holy Grail could be just about anything. It could be simple pumped hydro from the information revealed in this article.
That is what we expected in the world of highly technologies, it sounds great, we can’t wait to see it happens
Communities concerned with resilience are not well-served by grid-scale storage, since grid down-time is usually the problem. However, this pilot project is the right size for many distributed solar-PV systems. If the technology can be scaled down, as well as scaled up, it would be more useful to the increasing number of towns and cities installing PV arrays to power emergency services, schools and essential industrial and commercial facilities.
It is interesting to see another long duration storage solution joining the ranks of Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Energy Vault, etc. etc. On the one hand it is good news to see some form of competition for Li-Ion, everything else just does not seem to be economically or physically as compelling as Li-Ion at this stage if this was the case Flow battery systems would have dominated the world energy stage since the 2nd world war when the first flow battery technology was developed. I certainly hope it works even in tandem with other solutions out there to help reduce the KWh price we are dealing with today.
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