West Virginia plant to make batteries for US energy grid

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A company that plans to make batteries for the U.S. energy grid will locate its first full-scale manufacturing plant in a former steel town in West Virginia, creating at least 750 jobs in a $760 million investment, Gov. Jim Justice said Thursday.

Massachusetts-based Form Energy will build the plant on a 55-acre site once occupied by Weirton Steel in the Northern Panhandle. Construction is expected to begin next year with manufacturing of battery systems set to start in 2024, the company said.

Form Energy focuses on energy storage technology and manufacturing. It has developed a battery whose active components are iron, water and air and is capable of storing electricity for 100 hours, said company co-founder and CEO Mateo Jaramillo, who led automaker Tesla ’s powertrain business development program until 2016.

Over the next decade, the company’s goal for the battery is to unlock demand for multi-day energy storage in the United States and “accelerate the country’s trajectory toward a fully decarbonized and more reliable and resilient electric grid,” Jaramillo said in joining Justice at the announcement at the state Culture Center in Charleston.

The Weirton site along the Ohio River is about an hour from the company’s pilot manufacturing facility in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Weirton Steel, which operated a nearly 800-acre property, filed for bankruptcy protection in 2003. Cleveland-Cliffs now makes tin-plated products on the site, where employment tumbled from 6,100 in 1994 to less than 900 now.

“Weirton is a historic steel site with strong natural infrastructure and in a region of the country with the know-how to make great things out of iron,” Form Energy said in a statement.

Justice has made several job-related announcements this year aimed at helping to soften the loss of thousands of coal industry jobs in the state over the past decade. Among them included plans for a steel mill, a lithium-ion battery plant and a facility that makes electric school buses.

“This today is further testimony to us moving into an economy where we’re diversified even more,” Justice said. “We want West Virginia to be known evermore as that energy state that always figured it out.”

The announcement came as U.S. Census Bureau estimates released Thursday show that West Virginia lost residents for the 10th straight year. The estimates show the state’s population fell by 10,370 residents over the past year. The 0.6% decline was the fourth highest rate in the nation.

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