The transition to clean energy doesn’t work without big batteries.
As more renewable energy is added to the grid, utilities and other electricity providers will need batteries that last for tens or hundreds of hours, which kick in when there's a lull in power, such as during a stretch of cloudy days.
At that demand, traditional lithium-ion cells, found in everything from electric cars to iPhones, are just too expensive. That's why a raft of startups backed by billionaires is racing to come up with cheap long-duration storage, and Form Energy is out in front.
Form is staffed by a star-studded team led by Mateo Jaramillo, who built Tesla's energy-storage business. Jaramillo spent seven years at the carmaker, where he discovered the shortcomings of lithium-ion batteries for grid-scale storage.
"We'd talk to regulators and they were, like, 'How do we get rid of coal?'" he told Business Insider earlier this year. "At the time, people would say: 'Cost-effective long-duration isn't possible, which is why we'll never get rid of coal and natural gas.' I didn't accept that."
Instead, he started looking into what it would take to replace thermal power plants on the grid. In the process, he realized that grid-scale storage wasn't as limited by space, which opened up other cheaper options, such as aqueous flow batteries.
That’s what Form is working on now, flow batteries that, he says, will be 50 to 100 as cheap as lithium-ion at the grid scale. In May the company secured its first utility deal to try it out.