December 29, 2022
An afternoon view of the historic Market Street Bridge, a wire suspension and Warren through truss over the Ohio River between Weirton, West Virginia and Steubenville, Ohio. WEIRTON, WV - Form Energy Inc., a startup developing multi-day energy storage systems, is expected to begin construction in 2023 of a factory in Weirton, West Virginia, a town that was once a leader in steel production.
Form Energy chose Weirton from among 500 locations across 16 states to establish its first factory to manufacture its multi-day energy storage technology. The startup is working on developing iron-air batteries, which the company says are “optimized to store electricity for 100 hours at system costs competitive with legacy power plants.” Current battery technology only provides between 4-6 hours of energy storage on average. Form Energy hopes to begin manufacturing the clean energy iron-air battery systems in 2024. West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said the factory will be built with a total investment of $760 million, which includes $290 million in “asset-based performance financing” incentives from the state. The state will maintain ownership of the land and the buildings, according to Justice. The governor’s office estimates the new manufacturing plant will create a minimum of 750 jobs and pave the way for the state to reshape its electric system to run on “100% low-cost renewable energy.”
"At one point, Weirton was one of America's most important steel towns— a national leader in steel production,” Justice said in a statement. “Now, this historic city is looking toward the future, and it's very bright with Form Energy opening its doors.”
West Virginia had the worst power reliability in the nation as of last December, according to a Reuters review of government data. The state relied on coal-fired power plants for 88% of its power needs in 2020, and the average electric customer in West Virginia experienced 468 minutes of outages that year, according to Reuters. Mateo Jaramillo, co-founder and CEO of Form Energy, noted the U.S. electric grid faces a challenge with managing variability as the nation transitions to renewable energy. During a presentation last week, Jaramillo said extreme weather events have “exposed the vulnerability of our electric grid” and the nation’s reliance on “potentially fragile supply chains” to meet energy demands. “To reach renewable energy independence, to meet supply chain challenges, to run the grid reliably and affordably, we need new domestically manufactured energy storage technology capable of cost effectively storing electricity for multiple days,” Jaramillo said. “Form was founded with this singular mission – to develop exactly this multi-day energy storage battery that would address these challenges and fully unlock the power of extremely low cost renewable energy to transform the electric grid.”
Form Energy announced it received $450 million in financing in October. Jaramillo said last week that the long-duration storage iron-air battery is ready to scale.
With Form’s technology still forthcoming, skeptics of the deal say investments in next generation-technology can largely be “speculative.”
“With all due respect to this company and their people and their technology, this is a speculative investment in a company that does not yet have a product or customers,” John Mozena, president of the Center for Economic Accountability stated. “It would be good if when governors or other politicians made highly speculative investments, they were up front with taxpayers about that.”
Form Energy plans to build its first iron-air battery manufacturing facility on 55 acres along the Ohio River in Weirton.