When it comes to global energy needs, there are some notable concerns for the future. For example, carbon-based energy sources pose serious threats to the survival of the planet and humanity. Use of coal, ethanol and even natural gas are unsustainable as energy sources long-term. This has naturally led to investments in alternative energy sources, including solar, wind and hydropower. But while these offer renewable energy solutions, they too have limitations with the most notable one related to energy storage. Existing battery and energy storage systems are inadequate for a full-term conversion to these sources. And as a result, innovative strategies are desperately needed.
Fortunately, one such company appreciates these issues and is actively pursuing long-term answers. Form Energy, led by Mateo Jaramillo, has been aggressively pursuing iron-air battery solutions to address global energy storage needs. The Form Energy’s CEO has a wealth of knowledge and experience in the area with high hopes for our future. In fact, he predicts a state of energy abundance in future decades as a transition to renewable energy occurs. Given the work he has done to date with iron-air battery systems, he can certainly back up these statements. And hopefully his company can help lead such a transition sooner rather than later.
“Because renewable electricity has made such huge gains in the last 15 to 20 years, we’re now at penetration levels where we do have to think very hard about the last 30% or 40% of the electric system and exactly how we’re going to provide a level of reliability and cost using a renewable or generator like what we have.” – Mateo Jaramillo, Form Energy’s CEO
The Origins of Form Energy
Form Energy was started in 2016 as an offshoot of an MIT project known as The Engine. This happened to be the same time that current Form Energy’s CEO decided it was time to leave Tesla. As head of Tesla’s Energy Storage Group, Jaramillo had gained tremendous insight and knowledge regarding energy systems. And he brought these assets to Form Energy in its effort to design a better renewable energy storage system. Since that time, Form Energy has invested heavily in iron-air battery systems as a potential energy storage solution. And many high-profile investors have supported the cause. In fact, Form Energy to date has raised over $360 million in funding.
Under Jaramillo’s leadership, Form Energy has progressively expanded with the company now having roughly 200 employees. But according to the Form Energy’s CEO, talent is not enough when you’re trying to create highly complex energy solutions. In addition to having passion and ambition, Jaramillo seeks out those who can constructively disagree. Innovation demands such conflicts so that a variety of ideas can be considered. (Read more on how infrastructural needs can breed innovation in this Bold story!) This is certainly the case when it comes to designing the next-level energy storage systems. And thus far, Jaramillo has had significant success in recruiting the right personnel. In his own words, organizational culture plays a large role in the future success of the company.
“What we’ve done at Form Energy — and we’re now about 200 people — is create a culture where we are all extremely passionate and devoted and mission oriented, and we also are able to sustain things like a family life. And those two things are not in opposition.” – Mateo Jaramillo, Form Energy’s CEO
The Rationale Behind an Iron-Air Battery
While Jaramillo worked with Tesla, he was intimately involved in advancing lithium ion battery technology. The Form Energy’s CEO was part of the team that developed Tesla’s Powerwall. As a result of this technology, each of us enjoy the use of various devices powered by lithium ion batteries. But unfortunately, this technology is insufficient when we transition to 100% renewable energy sources. Solar energy and wind are not continuously available, which requires any energy storage system to hold tremendous amounts of energy. Likewise, such a storage system must be much cheaper to construct and maintain. Both of these requirements is what led Form Energy to explore iron-air battery systems.
Compared to lithium ion batteries, iron-air battery systems costs about a tenth of the price. Because iron has been studied and sought after for centuries, it is in abundance and continues to be used for steel production. As a result, the industry is already scaled to a tremendous capacity, making it readily available for iron-air battery production. In addition, iron-air battery systems can store huge amounts of energy and release them slowly over time. In essence, iron is oxidized when it comes in contact with oxygen, which is how it stores energy. Then when de-oxidized (de-rusted), energy is released. This basic concept of the iron-air battery is what Form Energy is perfecting. And it has the potential to meet all our future global energy storage needs as a result.
“If we’re going to have an electric system that is not only 100% renewables driven — by wind, water and solar — then we do need to think about these periods of intermittence that are longer than just a few hours at a time. And that means it also has to be a lot cheaper than what lithium-ion can do.” – Mateo Jaramillo, Form Energy’s CEO
Form Energy’s Underlying Mission
One of the most intriguing things about Form Energy’s CEO is his educational background. In addition to a degree in economics, Jaramillo also has a Master’s degree in theology. Though he planned to pursue the ministry, he realized he did not have the personality for it. Therefore, he examined other career pursuits where he could care for humanity in a powerful way. This as well as a passion for environmental justice is what led him to iron-air battery research. He believes that the transition to completely renewable, recyclable, and sustainable energy systems is inevitable. Therefore, he has made the pursuit these solutions his life’s work. And similarly, this same focus underlies the mission for Form Energy.
At the current time, Form Energy continues to raise millions of dollars from high-profile investors to continue its work. According to Jaramillo, the iron-air battery concept works. And he expects Form Energy’s solution to be a big piece of the energy transition puzzle. How this will take place as far as its incorporation into the grid is not known. But the Form Energy’s CEO is highly optimistic about the world’s energy future. It’s also the reason why Form Energy has easily received the support it needs to advance its iron-air battery systems. From the outside looking in, it seems Form Energy not only has an admirable mission, it is also pursuing it in a highly valued way.