Business, Energy, State Government

Form Energy will build 100-hour iron-air battery plant in Weirton; will create 750 jobs and advance energy generation

MORGANTOWN — Gov. Jim Justice on Thursday announced an economic development partnership that he said will help revitalize the city of Weirton and foster American energy independence.

Massachusetts-based Form Energy will partner with the state to build its first iron-air battery manufacturing facility on 55 acres of property on the former Weirton Steel site along the Ohio River. The $760 million investment is expected to create at least 750 jobs, Justice said.

“These dilapidated gold-rush-collapsed buildings are all going to change,” he said. “All of us together are pulling the rope. It is an exciting time in West Virginia.”

The state structured a financial incentive package worth up to $290 million in asset-based, performance financing to support Form’s decision, he said. The state’s investment is guaranteed, secured and collateralized through state ownership of all land and buildings. The West Virginia Economic Development Authority allocated $75 million toward the purchase of land and the construction of buildings in Weirton.

Justice said he will work with the Legislature and federal partners to obtain an additional $215 million needed to finalize the agreement.

Justice held the announcement at the Culture Center in the Capitol Complex. Form CEO Mateo Jaramillo talked about the plan.

“The U.S. electric grid faces a severe challenge” during the energy transition, he said. “Current battery technology allows for only four-to-six hours of storage, and we are increasingly reliant on fragile supply chains.

“The nation needs domestically produced energy storage technologies that last multiple days,” he added, explaining Form’s new iron-air battery will do that. It uses safe, inexpensive, abundant materials: iron, air and water, he said. “Yes, we are effectively rusting iron in our battery.”

And it holds power for 100 hours, he said.

Form has reached the point to enter the manufacturing scale-up phase, he said, and scouted more than 500 sites before choosing Weirton — combining the location of the former steel plant and the know-how of working with iron with the state’s pro-business landscape and streamlined processes.

The iron-air batteries will mean billions of dollars in savings to consumers while advancing innovation and renewable energy independence, he said. The battery will reshape the electric system to reliably run on 100% low-cost renewable energy, every day of the year.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw and Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, both praised the development.

Weld, who grew up in Weirton a half-mile from the site and represents the area, said, “Today Christmas has come early to the city of Weirton.” He showed his grandfather’s mill badge and recalled that the plant once employed 14,000 people. The human foundation of the plant — the employees’ work ethic and ethos — still exists, and this will help the area prosper again.

Justice talked about West Virginia’s history powering the nation, and how this will take new forms during the transition. “We need to embrace all the renewables, all the alternatives, while never, ever forgetting our coal miners, our gas workers.”

Form Energy expects to start construction of the Weirton factory in 2023 and begin manufacturing iron-air battery systems in 2024 for broad commercialization.

Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito both issued statements praising the development.

Manchin said, “Today’s announcement is welcome news for Weirton and the entire Mountain State. Form Energy’s new manufacturing plant will bring clean and innovative energy technologies to West Virginia and put to good use the vast skills of our people to help ensure our country’s energy security. West Virginia continues to be a leader in energy innovation.”

Capito said, “Once again, West Virginia has won a highly competitive process to bring new jobs and opportunities to the Mountain State. Today’s announcement was truly a collaborative effort, and I want to congratulate Gov. Justice, Secretary [Mitch] Carmichael, and the leadership of the West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates in working together to bring Form Energy to our Northern Panhandle. If West Virginia is going to continue to be an energy state, we must embrace new technologies, but also tell our story on a national and global level.”

TWEET David Beard @dbeardtdp