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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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New Battery Tech Could Kill Two Major Decarbonization Challenges With One Stone

  • A clean energy company accidentally discovered a technology using iron-air batteries that could decarbonize the steel industry.
  • Form Energy's battery purifies iron ore for steelmaking with a low-emission process, potentially replacing high-polluting coking coal.
  • This innovation could significantly reduce emissions across various industries that rely on steel.
Battery

While the global clean energy transition is well underway, there are still some unsolved technical hurdles standing between our current energy industry and our ability to meet global climate goals by mid-century. Most of the more obvious and accessible items on the decarbonization to-do list – pushing electric vehicle adoption, installing solar and wind farms, and making our homes and appliances more energy efficient, for example – are already being tackled at a wide scale around the globe. But other key platforms of a pathway to net zero rely on as-yet unproven technologies. 

Two of these tricky problems are the issue of finding a scalable long-term energy storage solution to enable reliance on a 100% renewable energy mix without compromising energy security, and decarbonizing hard-to-abate sectors such as heavy-duty trucking, shipping, aviation, iron and steel, and chemicals and petrochemicals. Unlocking the secret to solving these sticky issues has the potential to disrupt the clean energy industry as we know it and put us on track for carbon neutrality, as well as to create new economic sectors with massive potential for rapid growth

Now, here comes the amazing part. In the process of trying to solve the riddle of long-term energy storage, a green battery company accidentally discovered a solution to one of the other key wicked problems facing the decarbonization movement – cleaning up the iron and steel industry. In a stunning development, Form Energy is using its innovative battery technology to solve two completely disparate problems plaguing the global energy industry. 

The Massachusetts-based green energy supplier uses an innovative ‘iron air’ battery to store clean energy at longer intervals than standard lithium-ion batteries are able to. The battery stores clean energy by converting rust into pure iron, and feeds it back into the grid by turning that iron back into rust. And that very same process can be applied to cleaning up an essential part of the iron and steel industry. 

Purifying iron ore for use in steelmaking is traditionally one of the most carbon-intensive components of the extremely dirty steel supply chain. Generally, the process for purifying the iron oxide and iron hydroxide that are extracted from the Earth requires large amounts of high-emissions coking coal. As a result, steel production is the single largest-emitting manufacturing sector on the planet, solely responsible for at least 7% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions.  

There are already some existing options for cleaning up the steelmaking industry, but none have been a silver-bullet solution. But the team behind the new iron-air battery breakthrough says that it has the potential to be that kind of a disrupter. The new technology puts powdered iron ore in a low-temperature alkaline solution. When an electrical current is run through it, powdered metallic iron is produced. 

The team at Form Energy says that this process can be run continuously and at high efficiency. In fact, they contend that it has the potential to financially compete with conventional fossil-fuel powered furnace technologies. While Form still needs to prove that this is commercially viable, its competitive potential is significant. “Furnaces entail a minimum investment in the billions of dollars,” reports Canary Media. “Form’s electrolytic technique could be easier to deploy because it can be scaled up in smaller increments.”

“We found a cheaper, more scalable, more efficient process for producing green iron,” Form Energy co-founder and CEO Mateo Jaramillo told Canary Media. ?“We know that it has a chance to create a ton of value, so we’re going to pursue it.” Form Energy’s clean iron initiative was one of 13 projects selected to receive funding from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) last month.

The potential impact of finding and developing a scalable technology for clean steelmaking is hard to overstate. “As a building block of the global economy, steel’s carbon footprint touches almost every industry, from automotive and construction to machinery, transportation and energy,” the World Economic Forum states. As a result, decarbonization of steel would have major downstream implications for a huge number of economic sectors. “If the two billion metric tons of crude steel produced globally every year were green steel, it would not only shrink steel’s emissions but substantially cut emissions for all those industries dependent on steel.” 

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com

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