Novel Grid Battery Introduced

Novel Grid Battery Introduced

A revolutionary new battery design was recently announced that used basic materials, i.e., iron and water, where the battery can store electricity for as long as 100 hours rather than only a few hours with Lithium-ion batteries. 

The Form air-battery is also far less costly than Lithium-ion batteries. 

Form Energy advertised the air-battery as the battery that could solve the long-term storage issue that prevents wind and solar from replacing fossil fuels.

Quoting the Form Energy website:

Each individual battery module is about the size of a side-by-side washer/dryer set and contains a stack of approximately 50 one-meter-tall cells. 

Hundreds of these enclosures are grouped together in modular megawatt-scale power blocks. Depending on the system size, tens to hundreds of these power blocks will be connected to the electricity grid.

From Form Energy website: Concept of proposed battery storage

The battery can store 1 MW of electricity on one acre of land at a cost 1/10 that of a Lithium-ion battery.

A low-cost battery using iron and a water-based electrolyte is a significant improvement. Still, the question remains whether the Form air-battery can supply all the backup needed to allow wind and solar to sustain the grid without blackouts.

While 100 hours, i.e., four days of storage, is impressive, it doesn’t meet the established minimum requirement of nine to fourteen days of storage needed to ensure grid reliability.

We know Texas has gone for nine days without sufficient wind to generate electricity. New England went for 14 days without the ability to generate electricity from PV solar and only a modest ability to generate electricity from wind in 2018.

The Texas grid is an independent grid that can be used to evaluate whether the Form air-battery can provide the storage needed to maintain a reliable electric grid. While the Texas grid is much smaller than the Eastern and Western grids, it can provide insight into whether the Form air-battery can solve the storage problem.

Referring to the ERCOT website, where ERCOT administers the Texas grid, the historical peak demand on the Texas grid has been 80,120 MW. 

The Form air-battery, rated 1 MW/acre, would require 80,120 acres to provide four days of storage backup for the Texas grid.

For comparison, Manhattan Island in New York covers 14,600 acres.

Over 180,000 acres of storage would be needed to approximate Texas’s nine-day minimum storage requirements. This is equivalent to over 12 Manhattan Islands.

The Form Energy website says that a high-density Form air-battery can store 3 MW/acre, but no supporting data is provided. Increasing the density requires more iron or different materials that could increase its cost. Perhaps the battery is taller? But without more information, any comments are speculative. 

Another factor that needs to be taken into consideration is that the battery doesn’t discharge rapidly. This means that Lithium-ion batteries will still be needed for sudden or rapid changes in demand, 

While the emphasis has been on batteries, few mention that the batteries need to be charged, which requires surplus generating capacity from wind or PV solar.

For example, onshore wind, which is predominant in Texas, has a capacity factor of around 33%, which means that a 3 MW wind turbine only produces 1 MW of electricity during the year. While that’s a cryptic explanation of capacity factor, it results in the need to build 3 times the peak demand in terms of nameplate rated capacity, or 240,000 MW of nameplate wind turbine capacity to recharge the 12 Manhattan-sized battery installations over four-days. 

Or 120,000 MW to recharge the batteries in 8 days, or 60,000 MW of surplus capacity to recharge the batteries in 16 days.

The longer it takes to recharge the batteries, the greater the probability that another storm or weather event will prevent them from being fully recharged. 

Interestingly, two hurricanes or tropical storms hit Texas within 30 days of each other in the following years.

  • 1971
  • 1942
  • 1933
  • 1886
  • 1842
  • 1835

If Form Energy develops a 3 MW/acre high-density battery, it will reduce the area required for storage to a size equivalent to only 4 Manhattan Islands.

Whether a high-density Form air-battery can allow the Texas grid to be supplied solely by wind and PV solar remains debatable, and the Texas grid is small compared to the Eastern and Western grids.

The Eastern grid is roughly seven times the size of the Texas grid based on peak demand, while the Western grid is roughly three times the size of the Texas grid.

It’s unlikely the Form air-battery will be able to store enough electricity to ensure that the Eastern and Western grids can operate solely with wind and PV solar while excluding fossil fuels.

The Eastern grid serves the most people and is especially vulnerable to weather events, including hurricanes and fierce winter blizzards.

Image from NOAA

Hurricane Irma’s cloud cover eventually covered the entire Eastern United States for several days.

The Form air-battery is only in the prototype stage, but if it works, it will be a step forward in providing grid storage. Still, it will not be able to provide sufficient backup for the ten or more days electricity isn’t available from wind and PV solar. 

The task of supplying sufficient storage using batteries to prevent blackouts is too great.

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10 Replies to “Novel Grid Battery Introduced”

  1. Shouldn’t some of the mentions of megawatts really be megawatt-hours? Megawatt is a unit of power. Megawatt-hour is a unit of energy.

    • Not in this context. MW hours is the amount over time. Here, the issue is how much space is required per MW of storage, and demand in MW is its corollary..

  2. Metal-air batteries have been around for a while. I worked on a Zn-air battery at a startup. I found that the trick to the battery having more energy power was in the electrolyte. If you add a small amount of Li chloride and you can get it to intercalate into the metal (I used manganese) – you have a “cheap” Li battery that can be exposed to air. It’s just the old Zn-chloride battery made rechargeable because the manganese is a transition metal capable of redox.

  3. wonder what the CO2 footprint is to build these batteries in the first place ? and the mineral requirements … we can never build enough solar/windmills to handle daily peak loads AND recharge any battery system … we don’t have the resources nor the land footprint available to even try to build out net-zero …