According to Mateo Jaramillo, dozens of iron pellets rotting away in a lab in Somerville, Massachusetts, are the foundation of renewable energy. Jaramillo is the CEO of Form Energy, a firm that claims to have made a milestone in a global competition to store renewable power for extended periods.
For thousands of years, rust on iron has been an indication of degradation. But now, this chemical method — the oxidation of iron-to-iron oxide — is at the heart of a battery that, according to Jaramillo, could provide a way to store power on the power grids for over 100 hours at a fraction of the cost of a facility fueled by the lithium-ion batteries, the most widely used battery technology.
“Lithium-ion now is highly cost-effective at delivering power storage for a few hours,” said Jaramillo, who previously worked for Tesla on stationary energy storage. “However, thinking ahead and considering how the grid works, we require to be prepared to bridge dozens of hours.”
As iron pellets “rust” or oxidize in the oxygen from the air, the batteries discharge energy; the opposite chemical process — essentially “de-rusting” — then utilizes electric current to transform the rust back into pure iron. Every iron-air battery is roughly the size of the dishwasher, and thousands of them might be used to retain megawatts of renewable power on the grid until it is needed.
Form Energy isn’t the only startup attempting to address this issue. In the United States, solar energy and renewable wind presently account for around 10% of total electricity use. However, the sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow, and today’s electrical infrastructure doesn’t have much storage. Environmentalists aim to abolish fossil fuels such as gas and coal as energy sources since they can provide power to the system in a matter of seconds and have no such drawbacks; grid-scale storage is supposed to substitute at least some of the “on-demand” need for electricity.
Costa Samaras, who works at the Carnegie Mellon University located in Pittsburgh as an associate professor of environmental engineering who analyses efforts to generate a power grid with appropriately no carbon emissions, said, “Cost-effective, durable, and dependable energy storage means opening up whole new sectors of prospect for grid decarbonization.” “It relieves grid stress during peak periods and reserves renewable energy from times when there is a lot of it to times when there isn’t.”