Energy of form, a company that claims to develop a rechargeable battery that can store electricity for days at a fraction of the current cost, has been accused of being excessively reserved, although it has raised more than $ 360 million in funding from supporters of blue chips since its inception in 2017 by a handful of founders.
One such founder, Form Energy CEO Mateo Jaramillo, ran Tesla’s transmission business before leading the creation of Tesla’s Energy Storage group. And in an event hosted late last week by this publisher, Jaramillo spoke with former TechCrunch reporter and current CNBC correspondent Lora Kolodny about his company’s core technology, which involves iron, air and water. He addressed why the company operated in a kind of stealth mode. He also discussed how he looks back on the more than seven years he spent at Tesla, working for Elon Musk, a time we have collected. . .intense.
You can watch the entire interview below. Meanwhile, the following are excerpts from that conversation, edited for length.
On how storage is establishing itself and why we are seeing a wave of renewable energy right now (with many companies aside from Form gaining attention and investment):
The cheapest source of electricity available in the world today comes from a renewable resource, namely solar or wind, depending on which region you are in. But if you are looking for the slightly cheaper electricity cost, it will be renewable today. And, of course, the problem with renewable energy is that it’s time-driven, and time is only predictable up to a point, and it’s intermittent. This means that to enable a fully renewable decarbonised grid, we need to be able to store intermittent energy sources for all relevant time frames.
Yes, the sun sets every night and comes in very handy every morning, so this is a gap we need to fill. But then we start thinking about the gaps associated with seasons or long-term weather patterns, and as renewable electricity has made tremendous progress over the past 15-20 years, we are now at penetration levels where we have to think very hard about it. last 30% or 40% of the electrical system and exactly how we will provide a level of reliability and cost by using a renewable generator or like the one we have.
Jaramillo also explained why iron-air technology, which was first studied for nearly 50 years by federal agencies and never commercialized, suddenly makes sense today as a way to store energy:
First of all, the most used technology is hydroelectric pumping. This is by far the largest amount of energy storage we have in the world today. But the rapidly emerging technology is, of course, lithium-ion. Right now, at this event, I imagine everyone here has five lithium-ion batteries on them right now, just as an example of how prevalent that chemistry is. . . .
However, as we begin to get to these deeper penetrations of renewable energy, we need something that is a little different than what lithium ions can do. If we want to have an electrical system that is not just 100% renewable driven – by wind, water and solar – then we need to think about these intermittent periods which are longer than a few hours at a time. And that means it also has to be a lot cheaper than what lithium ions can do. . .
Iron [meanwhile] it is an extraordinarily abundant metallic substance. It is the most mined metal on Earth. Humans know a lot. We gave the name to an entire age because we were playing with it so much. And we understand a lot about it. And we still use it, obviously as the main input for steelmaking today. It is also very economical. It is abundant on every continent. . .and is one of the large-scale industries in the world. And you’re right it’s not a new chemistry. Form Energy did not invent iron air as a chemical. What we did, however, was to take a chemistry that was initially being studied by two national laboratories. . . and we have projected it 50 years into the future, and we have applied modern techniques and modern methodologies, modern knowledge of electrochemistry, of corrosion, of metallurgy, and we have brought that performance from 40 to 50 years ago where it was initially to where it can be today. . And that means we’re now working on devices that are really 1/10 the cost of what lithium-ion may be in the future. [That means] we can truly enable this deeply decarbonised, highly renewable, affordable and reliable power grid.
What does it mean: an iron air battery? It very simply means that we are rusting and not rusting the iron, electrochemically. This is what we are doing. It’s a very reversible process, but you have to be really good in exactly the way you do it.
Jaramillo also explained why the company has been reserved about the efficiency of its systems (“If we’ve been secretive, it’s only because we’re trying to avoid unnecessary hype about what we’re doing”).
He talked more precisely about how the whole thing works. If you’re curious, we suggest you tune in around 10 minutes to hear his overview of Form’s use of blueberry-sized iron balls that are now mass-produced by the steel industry in the amount of 100 million. tons per year.
Kolodny also asked what he learned at Tesla that he is trying to duplicate at Form Energy and what he learned from his career with the automaker he doesn’t want to repeat:
I was a Tesla for about seven and a half years. I started in 2009 and left in late 2016. And Tesla is a lesson factory. It could be said that it makes cars, but what it does is actually provide lessons to people. It was a wonderful place to stay during that arch. When I walked in, we were a couple of hundred people and when I left, we were 30,000 or 40,000 employees, something like that.
I left because at the time we had already launched Tesla’s energy effort: the Powerwall and the Powerpack. I’m married. My wife and I have three children. I would love to stay married and be a part of my children’s lives, and seven and a half years in the circle with Elon was enough for me. I also intentionally wanted to leave on good terms with Elon, and things were kind of in a good place, so it was like that for me.
Image credits: Dani Padgett
I left with no regrets but I take a lot away. I acknowledge that there is nothing more important than the people you work with and the quality of those people. They must passionately commit themselves in every possible way to the mission of what you are working on.
The other part of the lesson is that sometimes you have to protect people from themselves. It can tip over, right? Every virtue, if pushed too far, becomes a vice. And so it’s also really important to recognize that there can and should be limits to what you ask of people when they are so busy and when they are so passionate about the company’s mission. So hopefully, what we’ve done at Form Energy – and now we’re around 200 people – is create a culture where we are all extremely passionate, devoted and mission-oriented, and are also able to support things like family life. And these two things are not in opposition.