Government, Latest News

Granholm, Manchin in Wheeling for battery factory

U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm joined the groundbreaking for the $760 million Form Energy industrial battery plant on site of the old Weirton Steel property, calling the development possible because of the federal Inflation Reduction Act.

“One of the things that we’ve got to be clear about is that the revitalization in communities like Weirton and across the country is happening because of the Inflation Reduction Act,” Granholm told a crowd that gathered to celebrate redevelopment at the northern West Virginia property.

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

The $760 million initial phase in Hancock County is meant to produce 750 well-paying jobs. The iron-air battery manufacturing plant is financed by millions of dollars of private investments, but there are also millions of public dollars going toward the project.

The Inflation Reduction Act incentives are mainly through tax credits for clean energy factories built on former industrial sites, as well as for battery storage projects like the one Form Energy proposes.

Today’s groundbreaking included Granholm, along with U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael, state Sen. Ryan Weld, Delegate Mark Zatezalo, local officials and Form Energy leaders. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito had been scheduled to attend but couldn’t because of a conflict.

Manchin’s office drew a direct line between the Form Energy development and the Inflation Reduction Act, an energy security bill designed to incentivize domestic manufacturing and drive energy innovation. Manchin, a Democrat who could be running for re-election in 2024, was at the center of the bill’s

“Today’s groundbreaking is a direct result of the Inflation Reduction Act, and this type of investment, in a community that has felt the impact of the downturn in American manufacturing, is an example of the IRA bill working as we intended,” Manchin said.

“The people of Weirton’s unbeatable work ethic, our strong community college workforce programs and the infrastructure already in place, along with incentives we included in the Inflation Reduction Act, have all come together to ensure that Weirton and all of West Virginia will continue to use our natural resources — coal and gas that we can produce cleaner than anywhere else in the world — as we invest in advanced energy technologies of the future.”

Form Energy started its site selection process a year ago and looked at dozens of states and hundreds of sites. Over the first six months, Form narrowed the possibilities to the top three sites, finally deciding on Weirton.

“We all benefit from and owe our gratitude to the people who came before us on this site,” said Form Energy chief executive Mateo Jaramillo.

The company says that it is “developing, manufacturing and commercializing a new class of cost-effective, multi-day energy storage systems that will enable a reliable and fully renewable electric grid year-round.”
Among Form Energy’s financial backers is Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which includes billionaire investors like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. Gates has touted the company’s work “creating a new class of batteries that would provide long-duration storage at a lower cost than lithium ion batteries.”

The company’s battery technology operates through a “reversible rusting” process. The battery breathes in oxygen from the air and converts iron metal to rust. When the battery charges, the reverse happens. An electrical current converts the rust back to iron, and the battery breathes out oxygen.

Granholm, in her remarks in Weirton Friday, described strategic attention to that kind of technology.

“This is all consistent with the president’s goal to deploy, deploy, deploy clean energy solutions across the country,” Granholm said. “I have to say that again because of the Inflation Reduction Act, as of the end of last month, there were 160 battery companies that have announced they are coming to or expanding in the United States who might have gone to our economic competitors.

“So, Sen. Manchin, own it. So great, so great.”