The Minnesota-based power cooperative that on May 7 said it would close a large Midwest coal-fired power plant also noted it has a contract with Form Energy, a Bill Gates-backed company that offers a long-duration energy storage solution, one that the group says could provide 150 hours of continuous power.
Form Energy has been a quiet organization, funded by Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures and other investors and saying little about its work. Thursday’s announcement by Great River Energy (GRE) revealed that Form’s 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 product.
Typical lithium-ion battery storage systems provide four hours of storage, so Form’s 150 hours of storage is an exponential leap in technology.
Mateo Jaramillo, CEO of Form Energy, in the past had talked about “seasonal storage” with regard to his company’s work, and has said his company’s product is a “bi-directional power plant.” He has said Form’s battery system allows for “a fundamentally new reliability function to be provided to the grid from storage, one historically only available from thermal generation resources.”
Jaramillo in a statement Thursday said, “Our vision at Form Energy is to unlock the power of renewable energy to transform the grid with our proprietary long-duration storage. This project represents a bold step toward proving that vision of an affordable, renewable future is possible without sacrificing reliability.”
The first commercial application of the system will be in a project with GRE at a site in Cambridge, Minnesota. Great River on Thursday said the system could be online in 2023.
GRE is a not-for-profit wholesale electric power cooperative that provides electricity to 28 member-owner distribution cooperatives. It is Minnesota’s second-largest electric utility, behind Xcel Energy.
“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 Jon Brekke, GRE vice president, in a news 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, in a statement.
Low-cost, long-duration energy storage has been sought after as a way to help renewable resources such as solar and wind power perform more like baseload thermal generation. At present, the only long-duration energy storage comes from pumped hydro systems.
Several groups have pursued long-duration energy storage, including flow battery companies ViZn, Sumitomo, ESS, UET, Invinity, and Primus. There have been gravity-based systems from Energy Vault, Gravity Power, and Ares Power. Some companies have looked at compressed air or gas, including Highview Power and Hydrostor.
Highview Power, a company aligned with POWER’s Distributed Energy Conference, on May 8 said its CRYOBattery, a long-duration energy storage technology based on the principle of air liquefaction, received an honorable mention award in the Energy category of Fast Company’s 2020 World Changing ideas. The company’s CRYOBattery technology utilizes air, which is cleaned, cooled, stored as a liquid, then converted back to gas to drive a turbine which produces electricity. The company has said “it is the only long-duration energy storage solution that is commercially available today that offers multiple gigawatt-hours of storage, is scalable with no size limitations or geographical constraints, and produces zero emissions.”
More Than $50 Million in Funding
Form Energy was launched in 2017 and has raised more than $50 million in funding. The company is backed by investors including Eni Next LLC; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s The Engine; Breakthrough Energy Ventures, founded by Gates in 2015; Prelude Ventures; Capricorn Investment Group; and Macquarie Capital.
Long-duration energy storage would allow such projects to replace coal- and natural gas-fired peaking power plants that are currently used to help the grid during periods of high demand for electricity.
“Long-duration energy storage solutions will play an entirely different role in a clean electricity system than the conventional battery storage systems being deployed at scale today,” said Jenkins, the Princeton professor who studies low-carbon energy systems engineering. “Lithium-ion batteries are well suited to fast bursts of energy production, but they run out of energy after just a few hours. 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. A technology like that could make a reliable, affordable 100% renewable electricity system a real possibility,”
Form’s sales pitch to utilities includes both its technology and details about how power producers can optimize their energy portfolios using a proprietary software analytics system. The software was built to model high-penetration renewables at a system level, in an effort to discover how storage can be combined with renewable energy to create a low-cost energy source. The tool helps planners reduce exposure to extreme weather events and minimize uncertainty around commodity prices under a variety of future grid scenarios. Jaramillo has said Form can run a “complex co-optimization” analysis using its Formware program, which can model future power systems that will contain variable electricity sources, including intermittent solar and wind.
“In order to understand how best to make the energy transition, new analytical tools are needed, and Formware allowed us to work with GRE to systematically and thoroughly understand the value that our assets can bring to their system,” said Marco Ferrara, SVP Analytics and Business Development for Form Energy.
“Great River Energy is excited to partner with Form Energy on this important project. The electrical grid is increasingly supplied by renewable sources of energy. 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 Brekke.
GRE and Form on Thursday said the initial deployment, designed to operate for 20 years, would be the first of many of Form’s battery systems. Form has said the first project will be sited at an existing power plant in Cambridge, and located on about one acre. The company said it would have enclosed, weatherized systems on a concrete pad, and would not feature the containers typically associated with a lithium-ion battery project.
—Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).