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Scientists develop an ‘iron-air’ battery that stores electricity for days

An ‘iron-air’ battery has been developed in the US that can store electricity from wind or solar power plants for days and slowly discharge it to the grid.

It will help tackle climate change by reducing the need for fossil fuel power plants, according to Massachusetts, US technology startup Form Energy.

The Iron-Air battery is a ‘new class of cost-effective, multi-day energy storage system’ that can power electricity for 100 hours at 1/10 the cost of lithium-ion, the ‘holy grail’ in terms of renewable energy technology.

It is made of iron, one of the most abundant elements on Earth, and works by breathing oxygen, converting iron into rust and turning rust back into iron.

As it takes in the oxygen and converts the iron back and forth, it charges and discharges the battery, a process that stores the energy for a longer period of time.

The batteries are too heavy for use in electric cars, the company says, which it says are designed to meet the challenge of maintaining a steady supply of power.

If development continues, Form Energy hopes the first batteries will be up and running to supply the grid by 2025.

Form Energy plans to stack thousands of their 'iron-air' batteries together in massive warehouses, as seen in this view from the company

Form Energy plans to stack thousands of their ‘iron-air’ batteries together in massive warehouses, as seen in this view from the company

The idea is that when renewable energy systems, such as wind farms and solar power plants, fail, the batteries can feed the grid with previously stored electricity.

The idea is that when renewable energy systems, such as wind farms and solar power plants, fail, the batteries can feed the grid with previously stored electricity.

The idea is that when renewable energy systems, such as wind farms and solar power plants, fail, the batteries can feed the grid with previously stored electricity.

IRON-AIR BATTERY: HOW IT WORKS

The basic principle of operation is reversible rusting, the company says.

During discharge, the battery breathes oxygen from the air and converts iron metal into rust.

During charging, the application of an electric current converts the rust back into iron and the battery exhales oxygen.

They take power from renewable sources, store that energy for up to 150 hours and release it into the grid when renewables are offline.

Each individual battery is about the size of a washing machine.

Each of these modules is filled with a water-based, non-flammable electrolyte, similar to the electrolyte used in AA batteries.

Inside the liquid electrolyte are stacks of cells between 10 and 20 meters, including iron electrodes and air electrodes, the parts of the battery that enable the electrochemical reactions to store and discharge electricity.

These battery modules are grouped into megawatt-scale modular power blocks, which consist of thousands of battery modules in an environmentally friendly housing.

Depending on the system size, tens to hundreds of these power blocks are connected to the electricity grid.

For scale, in its least dense version, a one megawatt system needs about an acre of land.

Higher density configurations can reach 3MW/acre.

This solves one of the most elusive problems facing renewables, namely how to cheaply store large amounts of electricity and feed it to the grid when the sun isn’t shining for solar panels or the wind isn’t blowing for turbines.

Solar and wind sources are the lowest marginal cost of electricity in most of the world, but they do not provide a constant supply like fossil fuel power plants.

The power grid now faces the challenge of dealing with this variability in supply without sacrificing energy reliability or affordability.

Form Energy claims that their new battery system is the solution to this growing problem.

Mateo Jaramillo, CEO and co-founder of Form Energy, said they conducted a broad assessment of all available technologies and eventually reinvented the iron-air battery.

This is to ‘optimize for multi-day energy storage for the electricity grid’.

The company says the battery they are developing will allow countries to completely decommission thermal assets such as coal and natural gas plants.

“With this technology, we tackle the biggest barrier to extensive decarbonisation: making renewable energy available where and when it is needed, even during several days of extreme weather or grid outages,” says Jaramillo.

It will also be cheaper, the company said. A lithium iron battery cell uses nickel, cobalt, lithium and manganese minerals that cost up to $80 per kilowatt hour of storage.

Using iron, Form hopes to get that to less than $6 per kWh in terms of mineral cost for each cell, and packing them into a full battery system still keeps costs below $20 per kilowatt hour of energy storage. .

This is the price point at which experts say renewables will finally be able to replace traditional fossil fuel power plants.

Investors in the company include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a climate investment fund backed by Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and others. They have also received funding from steel giant ArcelorMittal, a world leader in iron ore.

It is made of iron, one of the most abundant elements on Earth, and works by breathing oxygen, converting iron into rust and turning rust back into iron.

It is made of iron, one of the most abundant elements on Earth, and works by breathing oxygen, converting iron into rust and turning rust back into iron.

It is made of iron, one of the most abundant elements on Earth, and works by breathing oxygen, converting iron into rust and turning rust back into iron.

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT IRON?

Iron, chemical element Fe and atomic number 26, is a metal that is the most abundant element on Earth by mass.

It makes up most of the outer and inner core and is the fourth most abundant element in the crust.

As a metal, it is rare in the crust, limited to meteorite deposits, but iron ore is very common.

With the use of furnaces and furnaces, iron metal can be extracted from iron ore at temperatures over 2,730 degrees Fahrenheit.

Humans first started producing iron metal from ore in Euraisa around 2000 BCE to produce tools and weapons that displaced copper alloys.

This is the transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, although it did not occur until 1200 BCE in some parts of the planet.

Form Energy is partnering with ArcelorMittal to develop iron materials that ArcelorMittal would provide non-exclusively for Form’s battery systems.

The company plans to source the iron in the US and then build batteries near where they will be located, including in the American Iron Range in Minnesota for utility company Great River Energy.

Greg Ludkovsky, Global Head of Research and Development at ArcelorMittal, which will provide the iron, said: Form Energy led the development of grid-scale sustainable battery storage solutions.

“The multi-day energy storage technology they have developed offers exciting potential to overcome the problem of intermittent renewable energy delivery,” he said.

The company was founded by lithium battery pioneer Yet-Ming Chiang, a professor at MIT, and Jaramillo, who studied economics before transitioning to battery technology, including a seven-year stint at Tesla.

“The founding team has 100 years of battery experience,” Chiang told the Wall Street Journal. “We are the alumni of a generation of failed battery companies that all came back for more.”

The first small-scale tests of the new battery technology began in early 2018, and in 2020 they were able to purchase the patents of an Arizona-based battery company.

The technology uses iron, extracted from iron ore, by rusting, reversing the rusting and slowly spreading the stored energy over days

The technology uses iron, extracted from iron ore, by rusting, reversing the rusting and slowly spreading the stored energy over days

The technology uses iron, extracted from iron ore, by rusting, reversing the rusting and slowly spreading the stored energy over days

This gave them a technology that was impervious to water but capable of breathing oxygen, which is essential for their battery.

“Having this piece nailed down allowed us to hit the accelerator,” Jaramillo said.

In the final design, 20 individual 3 by 3 ft cells will be grouped together in a battery and thousands of batteries strung together in a warehouse.

Each warehouse will then store a week’s worth of electricity, taking days to fully charge, but discharging in over 150 hours.

They are charged by renewable power plants such as wind and solar while in operation, to create a 150-hour buffer when not producing power, ensuring a continuous supply of electricity to the grid.

WHY DO SCIENTISTS WANT TO MINE ASTERODES?

Several start-ups have begun exploring the idea of ​​mining near-Earth asteroids for precious resources.

The celestial bodies are made of carbon, silicon or metal, but they are metal asteroids that mining companies are most interested in.

These rogue blocks of minerals are teeming with precious metals, including the expensive platinum, which could be worth billions on Earth.

Nickel, iron and gold are also found in abundance in metallic asteroids.

NASA estimates that the total value of resources locked in space rocks is £522 trillion, which is equivalent to £75 billion ($100 billion) for every person on Earth.

A company could send a small spacecraft to traverse asteroids as they approach Earth, mining them for these resources.

Experts have warned that this could destroy commodity prices and cause the global economy to collapse.

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