CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice and West Virginia economic development officials announced Thursday that Hancock County will be home to a new battery manufacturing plant in the near future.
Massachusetts-based Form Energy said Thursday they will build a manufacturing facility to build specialty batteries on the former Weirton Steel site. The location would give the company access to rail and barge transportation.
“This is as good of an announcement that could ever possibly be made,” Justice said. “This today is further testimony of absolutely us moving into a situation and economy where we are diversified even more. We want goodness across the board. We want West Virginia to be known forever more as that energy state that always figured it out.”
“This is an incredible day,” said Department of Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael. “It represents a transition for West Virginia to the new age economy. West Virginia has a great history of a fossil fuel industry. We have mined the coal, built the steel that built the bridge that carried the troops that won the wars. Now, this town once again will be revitalized with new energy, new opportunity, new growth and new hope in this season of hope.”
The new Form Energy facility will be a $760 million investment in West Virginia with the goal of creating as many as 750 jobs. This cycle allows the batteries to be charged and recharged. The company will build its first iron-air battery manufacturing plant. According to Bloomberg, the company has backing from Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
Iron-air batteries use iron pellets that rust, with the oxygen generated removed and allowing the rust to revert back to iron. According to Form, their proprietary iron-air batteries can deliver electricity more efficiently than standard lithium-ion batteries.
“The U.S. electric grid faces a severe challenge as we transition to low-cost electric energy: how to manage multi-day variability of that energy without sacrificing reliability or cost,” said Mateo Jaramillo, chief executive officer of Form Energy. “Form was founded with this singular mission to develop this multi-day storage battery that would address these challenges and fully unlock the power of extremely low-cost renewable energy to transform the electric grid.”
The West Virginia Economic Development Authority met by phone prior to Justice’s announcement, approving a $75 million economic incentive package from the Economic Development Project Fund for the project, dubbed “Project Willow.”
Senate Bill 729 passed in March, allows the Economic Development Authority to use monies in the newly established Economic Development Project Fund for high impact economic development projects. These are projects with investments of more than $50 million and expected to create at least 200 jobs.
“Today, Christmas has come early to the City of Weirton,” said state Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, whose district includes Hancock County. “Those people who made Weirton what it was, that ethos – that work ethic – is still in Weirton. That is the foundation the Form Energy will be building on and that this venture will be successful. For the City of Weirton, this is an enormous day.”
Justice said the state is using an asset-based lending approach for the project as the Weirton Steel buildings are improved and renovated. The state will retain ownership of the land and buildings as a backstop to guarantee the state’s investment.
Representatives of the company were in Charleston at the beginning of November meeting with Justice, Carmichael, Department of Commerce Secretary James Bailey and other state officials.
This is the second project to be announced in the region. Seattle-based Pure Watercraft announced earlier this year it would build an electric pontoon boat manufacturing plant in Brooke County in Beech Bottom. This is the second announced battery project for the state. California-based Sparkz also announced it would build an electric battery plant in Taylor County near Bridgeport.