Long-duration storage gets big boost with $325M from DOE

The department selected nine proposals with the goal of accelerating the adoption of emerging technologies, which could be key to cleaning up the grid.
By Julian Spector

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On Friday, the Department of Energy announced that it has selected nine proposals for long-duration energy storage test projects to receive a collective $325 million in funding.

The money, mostly allocated by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will go entirely to projects that can deliver stored electricity for a period of 10 hours or more. This type of resource is seen as vital for turning variable wind and solar production into a reliable, round-the-clock power source. The DOE wants to see costs for long-duration storage drop 90% over this decade, to make it a cost-effective tool for a future low-carbon grid.

The new funds offer a downpayment on that decade-long effort. Many of the technologies have been in development for years if not decades. But utilities and private investors have been slow to sink their money into long-duration technologies that haven’t proven they can operate at scale. The awards signal that the technological powerhouse” of DOE scientists and researchers has scrutinized these technologies and found them worthy of investment, said Under Secretary for Infrastructure David Crane in an interview. He likened it to a Good DOE Housekeeping seal of approval” for novel forms of storage.

These projects were picked after an extensive — and I mean extensive — internal review process,” said Crane, who oversees the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations. If we’re backing it, that’s a good sign.”

Two of the winners, ReJoule and Smartville, won funding to repurpose used electric-car batteries for resilient power in low-income communities. Others use electrochemical approaches that promise advantages over conventional lithium-ion batteries: Urban Electric Power will test its zinc manganese dioxide batteries in New York; five rural electric cooperatives will try out vanadium flow batteries from Invinity; zinc bromide batteries will deliver backup power to a children’s hospital in a disadvantaged part of Madera, California; and, renewables juggernaut NextEra Energy Resources will test zinc bromide batteries in Wisconsin and Oregon supplied by Eos Energy Storage (the recent recipient of a $400 million loan guarantee from the DOE).

Fast-moving Italian cleantech startup Energy Dome won funding for its first U.S. project, with three of Wisconsin’s biggest utilities. Energy Dome stores energy by compressing and expanding carbon dioxide contained in large bubble structures — it currently operates a 2.5-megawatt demo project in Sardinia.

The remote community of Healy, Alaska will transition from coal power to renewables with the help of a pumped thermal energy storage” system from legacy company Westinghouse and Echogen.

Lastly, a project using Form Energy technology won the only award for storage that can discharge for multiple days straight. The extremely well-funded startup will install its iron-air batteries at retiring coal plants owned by utility Xcel Energy in Colorado and Minnesota. The Xcel–Form partnership was announced in January; now it has financial support, and researchers from Argonne National Lab will measure, assess, and validate the technical and social impacts of the project.” Form separately won a contract with Virginia utility Dominion Energy this week, along with Eos.

The statute called for 5050 cost share on these projects, meaning the DOE would fund half. But, Crane noted, the department was able to stretch taxpayer dollars further than that: After the DOE’s $325 million, private capital will supply the remainder of an expected $800 million to build all these projects.

When asked which of the technologies he found most promising, Crane demurred: I’m an ecumenical guy. I love all nine projects, and we will be zealous in pursuit of all.”

The ultimate measure of success, he added, is to achieve replicability. This government funding is intended to take technologies that haven’t reached wide commercial adoption and convince private investors as well as utility regulatory commissions that these are trustworthy investments that will work the way they’re supposed to. If that succeeds, power companies will greenlight more of these projects in the near future.

First, the applicants need to complete negotiations with the DOE to finalize the awards. Then they must actually build their grant-funded projects, and the DOE says that could take four to five years for permitting, design and construction. Crane sounded hungry to get as many as possible done sooner.

My personal mission at the DOE is to move into a fast-track posture,” Crane said. If a company says they can move faster, we’re going to spend a lot of time making sure we don’t slow them down.”

Ideally, given the intensive vetting from the national labs, a wave of follow-on projects using these technologies can get rolling even before the first wave is built, he added. 

Correction, Sept. 25, 2023: This article originally stated that Form Energy won an award from DOE, but in fact Xcel Energy won the award for a project featuring Form technology. We regret the error. 

Julian Spector is senior reporter at Canary Media.