Midwestern utility Xcel announced they will install two massive 10-megawatt iron-air batteries alongside retiring coal plants in Minnesota and Colorado.
The iron-air batteries will allow Xcel to accelerate the closure of its coal facilities by providing up to four days’ worth of renewable energy to even out low production periods. That’s vastly more storage than lithium-ion batteries of the same size can offer, and at much lower cost.
Climate advocates and readers of this newsletter have known for some time about the thorny environmental trade-offs that come with lithium-ion batteries. Scaling up LI batteries will require tons of lithium, cobalt, copper and nickel— rare metals that are found primarily in parts of the world with weak environmental and human rights protections.
Unregulated cobalt mines in the Democratic Republic of the Congo routinely employ child labor, and the country’s precious remaining rainforest are being clear cut to reach valuable reserves.
Then there are the fossil fuels required to ship these metals to processing facilities, most of which are in China.
The mining industry’s emissions from shipping are 26 times higher than its combined Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions from normal business operations. When you take shipping into account, the mining sector makes up a whopping 28% of global emissions each year. Data gaps make it difficult to pinpoint what portion of those are attributable to lithium battery inputs, but that number is sure to rise alongside demand.
Many of these issues came to public attention recently thanks to several episodes of the Joe Rogan podcast, putting a dent in the “clean energy” branding of lithium batteries right when most of the world is being introduced to them as a climate solution.
On each front, iron-air batteries are the most promising alternative to lithium for long-term storage. Iron is the most abundant metal on earth, and it’s the only mined material necessary for energy storage. Iron is currently mined on every continent except Antarctica (for now), cutting out the complex supply chains and fossil fuels to transport rare metals.
They also vastly outperform lithium batteries for utility-scale storage. Iron air batteries can provide 100 hours of electricity, giving utilities up to four days of renewable power during production gaps and blackouts.
The Xcel project is the latest partnership for Massachusetts startup Form Energy (now hiring for 112 jobs on Climatebase!), which secured $450 million in funding in October of last year to produce iron air batteries at its new West Virginia plant.
Xcel is pursuing an aggressive decarbonization plan to cut carbon emissions. CEO Bob Frenzel said projects like the Minnesota and Colorado batteries have put Xcel on track to cut electricity generation emissions 80% by 2030 before zeroing out in 2050.
At this point, ‘net-zero by 2050’ is the standard among American utilities, but Xcel’s 2030 objective goes far beyond other plans.
Regional power giants Southern Company and Dominion Energy’s net-zero commitments are considered among the most ambitious. But Dominion only expects 30% of its power to come from renewable sources by 2030 while Southern hopes it can cut its emission in half by that time.
Part of the reason other utilities are backloading their reductions past 2030 is because they haven’t been as willing to invest in cutting-edge technologies. A report released in 2021 highlighted how many power companies are still banking on tacking on carbon capture to their existing generators and buying carbon credits to clean up the rest.
Iron-air batteries may do wonders for utility electricity, but they are far too big to fit into electric vehicles. Fortunately, alternative batteries for smaller applications have made strides recently.
This week, Nissan announced it would start producing solid-state batteries for its vehicles by 2028. Solid-state batteries offer twice the energy density of current lithium technology and triple the charging speed. And while solid-state requires 35% more lithium than conventional batteries, they need far less cobalt, or even none.
In January, researchers in South Korea made a breakthrough in sodium-ion batteries. Sodium batteries have until now been too large and sluggish to displace lithium, but researchers greatly improved storage by adding pigments to sodium anodes.
Check out some of the latest featured jobs below. If you don't see anything that speaks to you, you can always go to Climatebase to explore thousands of other opportunities.
"Rhizome is a climate resilience SaaS platform helping utilities, governments, and corporations quantify risk from extreme weather events and prioritize mitigating strategies. ..."
"EcoSystems is centered around a mission to prove that conservation is good for business. What started as a single focus on water conservation has grown organically into a full-service, all-encompassing water and energy conservation company. Our in-house teams bring efficient and dependable quality solutions to properties in the public an private sectors. The result - responsible savings that benefit the ..."
"Crosswalk Labs tracks greenhouse gas emissions over time with unprecedented resolution — scouring hundreds of data sources, running constrained optimization protocols on billions of data points and benchmarking the results against atmospheric measurements. We save cities time by providing a detailed, peer-reviewed approach to emissions data validated by atmospheric science — so you know it’s accurate. No more spreadsheets. No more ..."
"We envision a world where novel IoT sensing technology and cloud computing simplify air quality measurement, enabling cities, communities, and businesses to scale up the number of monitoring sites and take data-driven action to address air pollution. We are making that vision a reality by providing the tools ..."
"A national network of groups working together to advance a sustainable environment while creating economic opportunities for all. ..."
"Aspiration is in the business of fighting the climate crisis. We help people and businesses build sustainable impact into what they do every day by making it easy, automated, and powerful -- whether it is in the ways people spend and save their money or the ways businesses engage their customers and employees. The estimated cumulative climate impact of the Aspiration ..."
"BSP is the leading climate change government affairs firm working at the intersection of technology, finance, and policy. ..."
"Sealed is a climate tech company on a mission to stop home energy waste and electrify all homes. Sealed designs, manages, and finances home weatherization and electrification projects, making it easy and affordable for people to be more comfortable while using less energy. ..."
"Zitara Technologies builds battery management software for companies with large deployments. Customers across industries (EVs, satellites, renewable energy storage) rely on Zitara's cloud-ready embedded solutions for advanced battery management that precisely predict and manage the charge of every vehicle or fleet asset. ..."
"Flux Marine is a high-growth marine technology start-up that is designing electric outboard motors from the ground up without using legacy combustion engine parts. ..."
"For over 20 years, David Gardiner and Associates has worked to catalyze global decarbonization through strategic advisory services. By leveraging decades of practical experience and thought leadership, we provide our clients with tailored research and analysis, long-term strategic planning, and advanced communications through stakeholder engagement and alliance building. ..."
"Equilibrium Energy is a well-funded, Series A clean energy startup backed by some of the most prominent institutional investors in climate. We are building a digital native power company operating at the intersection of grid variability, market volatility, economic optimization, commercial structuring, and risk management, across the end-to-end power value chain. ..."
"Utility Data Made Easy UtilityAPI is a utility data service for the new energy economy. Hundreds of energy vendors use us every day to request and download utility customer bill and interval data. ..."
Earth Angel Sustainable Productions LLC
"Earth Angel is a full-service sustainability agency dedicated to reducing the environmental impact of entertainment productions. ..."
"Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) is a national association of businesses that are making the energy we use secure, clean, and affordable. AEE is the only industry association in the U.S. that represents the full range of advanced energy technologies and services, both grid-scale and distributed. Advanced energy includes energy efficiency, demand response, energy storage, wind, solar, hydro, nuclear, electric vehicles, ..."
"Founded by experienced renewable energy technologists and backed by committed mission-driven investors, Electric Hydrogen is building solutions to help cost-effectively decarbonize the massive industrial sectors that we all rely on. ..."
They are hiring across the following departments:
"WeaveGrid builds software to make it cheaper and safer for utilities to serve electric vehicles, add renewable energy resources, and save customers money. ..."
They are hiring across the following departments:
"At Actual we are building a software platform to help organizations of all kinds to break through climate paralysis and begin turning their sustainability goals into meaningful, measurable action. Think of Actual as a scaled up take on the “Sim” planning ..."
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