New Battery Tech: More Avenues to Carbon-Free

June 28, 2020

The most well known battery technologies are the familiar lithium ion type that we have in most of our cell phones and electronics, and the large pumped-hydro storage plants that operate like hydro dams.
Survey of existing technology in the video above.

But it’s a mistake to assume that the utility planners of 2030, or even 2025, will select from the same energy storage menu we have today. There are dozens, if not hundreds of new chemistries and tech that are currently showing big promise.

New technology now getting attention comes from a battery tech all-star team lead by a Tesla alumnus.

Recharge News:

A US utility planning to source most of its electricity from wind power is hoping that a novel 150-hour battery invented by a secretive start-up will ensure that the lights will stay on during extreme weather conditions.

Minnesota-based Great River Energy (GRE) —a not-for-profit wholesale electric power cooperative which provides electricity to about 700,000 homes and businesses — has announced plans to retire its 1.15GW coal plant and replace it with 1.1GW of new wind projects.

This will leave it with only one baseload power station, the 99MW Spiritwood combined heat and power plant, which runs off coal and natural gas, but will switch to run solely off natural gas. In addition, it has several gas peaker plants that act as back-up power.

The company says that the switch from coal to wind will reduce the cost of electricity to its customers — 28 member-owner distribution cooperatives — and that its “power supply resources will be more than 95% carbon dioxide-free, virtually eliminating carbon risk”.

Below, GRE CEO David Saggau describes how wind is becoming “the new base load”.

As part of its announcement, GRE said it will build a 1MW/150MWh (150-hour) grid-connected demonstration storage project in Minnesota by the end of 2023 using novel battery technology from secretive Massachusetts-based start-up Form Energy. In other words, it can provide 1MW of output for 150 hours straight.

Form Energy has won $50m of funding from investors, including the Bill Gates-backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Italian oil company Eni and Macquarie Capital, but has revealed little about its technology — only that is an “aqueous air battery system” and is “ultra-low-cost”.

It has been speculated that its technology uses sulphur as its main ingredient.

In an interview last year, Form’s chief scientist and co-founder, Yet-Ming Chiang, a professor of materials science at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), said: “What we’re looking for are batteries that can use either metals or other elements that are much lower cost, and an example of that would be sulphur. In fact, one of the ironies is that fossil fuels, which we’re trying to get rid of, are one of the great sources of sulphur.”

Scientists at MIT developed a sulphur-air battery in 2017, which it said at the time would be 30 times cheaper than lithium-ion. Form Energy announced its first tranche of funding in the summer of 2018.

But Form Energy was the result of a merger between two start-ups working on similar technology — Chiang’s sulphur-based Baseload Renewables, and Verse Energy, a long-duration energy storage vehicle focused on a different combination of chemicals and run by former Tesla energy storage boss Mateo Jaramillo — now the CEO of Form.

According to one of its investors, MIT’s Engine, “the company hopes to settle on the best combination of chemicals and start large-scale prototypes to test on the grid within the next few years”.

GRE has said that “long-duration storage will help maintain grid reliability in the future during extreme conditions, such as a heat wave or polar vortex.

The utility’s vice-president, Jon Brekke, added: “Commercially viable long-duration storage could increase reliability by ensuring that the power generated by renewable energy is available at all hours to serve our membership. Such storage could be particularly important during extreme weather conditions that last several days. Long-duration storage also provides an excellent hedge against volatile energy prices.”

Form Energy believes that its 150-hour storage capability “allows for a fundamentally new reliability function to be provided to the grid from storage, one historically only available from thermal generation resources”.

But Form Energy’s battery is not the only technology that can provide that kind of long-duration energy storage. There are several competitors capable of scaling up their storage capacity to whatever size the customer would like, including:

  • Canadian company Zinc8’s zinc-air battery, which will have three commercial pilot projects up and running by the end of 2022; 
  • Highview Power’s liquid-air storage system, known as CRYObattery, which has already been commercialised; 
  • Siemens Gamesa’s ETES hot-rock thermal energy storage technology, now being tested in Hamburg;
  • Stiesdal Storage Technologies’ GridScale hot-rock thermal storage, which is still at the pilot stage; 
  • Google X spin-off Malta’s molten-salt system, also still at the pilot stage; 
  • And of course, electricity can also be stored indefinitely by converting it to green hydrogen via electrolysis, and back to electricity at a later date using a fuel cell.

19 Responses to “New Battery Tech: More Avenues to Carbon-Free”

  1. grindupbaker Says:

    I assume the deal is that it’s top secret until whatever is patentable gets patented. Greenman would likely know a lot more about all that commerclal stuff than me, but that makes sense.

  2. redskylite Says:

    There is a huge effort in battery development, universities and industries reporting advances nearly weekly if not daily. I just hope the same amount of effort is going into traditional cement, and plastic replacements, and all truly major discoveries can be fast tracked into use. Time is of the essence.

    “Given CO2 emissions in the world and global warming, and all these alarms that have been ringing for many years, it’s our duty — it’s our responsibility — to take action.”

  3. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    I’ve often whined here about the waste of Tesla putting lithium-ion batteries, which are optimized for use in small and mobile applications, on a slab. Of course these technologies may not be as pretty or energy-dense as the array of Tesla boxes, but without the constraints of e-toys and EVs, there have to be more cost-effective alternatives to Li+ power storage.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      Tesla’s Cybertrucks are going to come with car-to-grid tech built in. The faster we can electrify the transport sector, the faster we will have an enormous stored electricity resource.

      • John Oneill Says:

        Car to grid isn’t that enormous a power store. In New Zealand, there’s some talk of dusting off an old, shelved pumped hydro scheme near here, which could convert lost spring runoff to power, replace coal in winter when the lakes are low, help us through the occasional dry year, and maybe compensate for wind’s erratic delivery ( it blows hardest in spring and autumn, when demand is lower.) The Lake Onslow scheme would take ten years to fill. It would store forty times as much power as if every household in the country had a Tesla Powerwall and a top-range Tesla 3.

        • Gingerbaker Says:

          There are 275 million vehicles on US roads. A Cybertruck will likely come with a 200 KW battery. Heavy trucks will come with much larger batteries.

          55 billion Kilowatts is a large amount of storage.

          • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

            All the usual questions. 55B Kw whats? Hours, minutes, seconds? Are they all full and available? Effectively all storage systems today are peak-er plants that can not run a country for more than minutes alone. Weeks or days of low renewable power will also drain them. Good and useful but not the ANSWER. Stopping fossil fuel burning is the ONLY answer.

          • Gingerbaker Says:


            This idea that the US is going to face days or weeks of way low RE is insane. We have years of data looking at national capacity factors – and they do not show this sort of thing. IOW, shortfalls are local.

            And another factor is proper siting.You know how I am always talking about PV in the Mojave being a smarter idea than rooftop? It’s not just because the insolation factor is *double* in the Mojave compared to the NE, it’s because the sun is virtually *always* shining there day after day after day.

          • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

            That is total rubbish. You don’t have crappy weather over half the continent for weeks on end, like in winter? Ref new scientist from memory, wind capacity increased significantly from previous year and output was less than the previous year. Note that is over a whole dam year. Even in the Mojave, solar output is high for about 2 hours and reducing to zip for about six. When the sun shines. The rest of the 16 hours, local time, nothing is produced.
            I worry about the DANGER of wishful solutions, a lot.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            What’s total rubbish is you shooting from the hip instead of looking at the data. The data NEVER shows solar or wind capacity factors dropping to zero or near zero for large amounts of time:



            The Mojave – even at winter solstice- gets almost ten hours of sun a day and gets 14.5 hours of sun in summer. About three hundred days a year are flat out sunny. How many overcast/cloudy days would still be excellent for solar?

            No idea where you are getting your numbers from. And the idea that BOTH solar and wind would simultaneously be useless on a national scale is simply not supported by the data. Basically impossible.

            Will we need to overbuild these RE sources? Yes. Big effing surprise – we have been talking about that for two decades.

          • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

            This string is getting hard to Bear….
            All countries and areas are different. The Best you got has 14.5 hours of daylight ( at 35 deg North?) with still only a couple of hours of high productivity. Except when there is only 10 hours of daylight or the 60 odd days of cloud. This is the point, it dosn’t produce 24/365. Britain plans 100% carbon free and needs a minimum of 40% ‘FIRM’, as in turn key power.
            Meanwhile the Gods are ROTGLTAO at any attempt to maintain 100% PV/wind.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            You are complaining that the sun doesn’t shine 24 hours a day?

            Stop the presses!

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Not only doesn’t it shine 24 hours a day, but it doesn’t “shine” all that much at high latitudes, early or late in the day, or when there are clouds or industrial air pollution.
            Why do you deny the reality?

  4. greenman3610 Says:

    there are lots of choices for materials if you don’t care about weight.
    good discussion of battery tech here

  5. John Oneill Says:

    Who’s he trying to kid ? The MISO ( Midcontinent Independent Transmission System Operator ) is currently running less than 9% wind. Versus 37 % coal, 32 % gas, and 12.4 % nuclear. To make wind baseload would require a huge increase in capacity, but that’s just the start. Germany has over 60 GW of wind capacity – more than the average total demand for the whole grid – but still only got 20.9 percent of its electricity from it. To rely on it you’d need to increase the capacity by the inverse of the capacity factor, then add enough to account for storage losses, and then install enough storage to span the gaps. How much that would be is a matter of contention, but it would dwarf any current pumped storage anywhere, let alone batteries. The largest extant battery system, in South Australia, is only used for current regulation, not to balance wind’s unreliability – it could only run Australia’s smallest mainland state for a few minutes, not the days of no wind, little sun that occur. The current regulation would not be needed if there weren’t so much wind and sun on the grid – traditional generators keep good time just by the inertia of their huge spinning rotors.

    • leslie graham Says:

      I agree. We need to massively increase storage capacity. I mean it’s not like we have a choice is it?

      • John Oneill Says:

        There is a choice – increase nuclear. Ontario borders the MISO, and usually has about one sixth as much CO2 emissions per kilowatt hour. Baseload nuclear, plus hydro. Ditto France compared to Germany. Or Sweden compared to Denmark. You don’t need much storage if ~70 % of your power comes from something that runs at over ninety percent capacity, and whose downtime can be scheduled a year in advance. If you’re trying to do it with wind or solar, where the whole country shuts down at once, all the time …

        • Gingerbaker Says:

          You might as well recommend using electric unicorns instead of new nuclear. Electric unicorns have a higher likelihood of becoming real.

          And nuclear has a carrying capacity below mid 90’s:


    • Gingerbaker Says:

      IIRC, RE is now larger than coal in the US. Plus, we have the advantage of being significantly larger from east to west than Germany, so we can simply move electricity rather than needing to store so much.

      Plus, the people in the actual business of providing electricity keep saying that storage won’t become an issue until variable RE reaches 80% penetration.

      Storage is not the pressing need right now. Building and deploying new RE is.

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