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4 January 2023

Form Energy lands “$760m manufacturing” deal from West Virginia

Iron Oxide based battery start up Form Energy has settled on Weirton, West Virginia for its first major production plant which is said to trigger an investment worth $760 million.

It said in a release, “After a year-long nationwide site selection process that started with identifying over 500 candidate locations across 16 states, it became abundantly clear that Weirton, West Virginia – a historic steel community that sits on a river and has the rich heritage and know-how to make great things out of iron – is the ideal location for our first commercial battery production factory,” said Mateo Jaramillo, CEO of Form.

The plant will create about 750 jobs, and will be the first plant of this type in the area, taking about 55 acres of land along the Ohio River. It will represent a total investment of up to $760 million including the amounts invested by the State.

West Virginia’s Governor Jim Justice put together a financial package worth $290 million in finance to win the decision for Weirton with the West Virginia Economic Development Authority allocating $75 million toward the purchase of land and the construction of buildings. He said that he will work with the West Virginia Legislature to obtain an additional $215 million needed to finalize the agreement. A key ingredient was having a stable grid and reliable power sources.

Ironically the largest power provider certainly offers stable power – it’s nuclear dominated FirstEnergy, a company embroiled in the 2020 bribery scandal in Ohio (see worth noting), which said that without the special support there for nuclear, it could have gone bust. Weirton takes most of its electricity from Mon Power, a direct FirstEnergy subsidiary which uses electricity from both coal and nuclear. So certainly stable if somewhat polluting.

All of this is IRON-ic given that the battery uses iron and the entire idea behind long duration energy storage (LDES) is to allow the grid to survive better with intermittent renewable energy to replace both coal and nuclear. Form Energy is developing an iron-air battery capable of storing electricity for 100 hours at system costs which it says are competitive with legacy power plants. Surely the best way to support a plant like this is using solar plus some of its own battery – not coal or nuclear.

In October Form recorded the largest investment into a LDES company in its Series E funding round, raising another $450 million to bring the company up to a total of $800 million to play around with. The investment came from TPG Rise Climate, along with GIC and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, along with existing investors ArcelorMittal, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Capricorn Investment Group, Coatue, Energy Impact Partners, MIT’s The Engine, NGP ETP, Temasek, Prelude Ventures, and VamosVentures.

In a recent report from Rethink Energy we forecast that alternative batteries which differed in chemistry from Lithium ion, would thrive in the long duration market and would globally reach 155,778 MWh of battery delivered by 2030.

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