The individuals featured in BI’s 100 People Transforming Business lists are driving change and innovation in their companies and across industries.
CEO and Founder, Form Energy
The transition to clean energy doesn’t work without big batteries.
As more renewable energy is added to the grid, utilities and other electricity providers will need batteries that last for tens or hundreds of hours, which kick in when there’s a lull in power, such as during a stretch of cloudy days.
At that demand, traditional lithium-ion cells, found in everything from electric cars to iPhones, are just too expensive. That’s why a raft of startups backed by billionaires is racing to come up with cheap long-duration storage, and Form Energy is out in front.
Form is staffed by a star-studded team led by Mateo Jaramillo, who built Tesla’s energy-storage business. Jaramillo spent seven years at the carmaker, where he discovered the shortcomings of lithium-ion batteries for grid-scale storage.
“We’d talk to regulators and they were, like, ‘How do we get rid of coal?'” he told Business Insider earlier this year. “At the time, people would say: ‘Cost-effective long-duration isn’t possible, which is why we’ll never get rid of coal and natural gas.’ I didn’t accept that.”
Instead, he started looking into what it would take to replace thermal power plants on the grid. In the process, he realized that grid-scale storage wasn’t as limited by space, which opened up other cheaper options, such as aqueous flow batteries.
That’s what Form is working on now, flow batteries that, he says, will be 50 to 100 as cheap as lithium-ion at the grid scale. In May the company secured its first utility deal to try it out.
CEO, Greentown Labs
It’s a challenging time to be a startup, and not just because you have to pitch your business over Zoom. Venture-capital deals are expected to fall by as much as 30% this year, according to a report by PitchBook and NCVA.
But those same concerns aren’t warranted in the climate-tech sector, says Emily Reichert, the CEO of Greentown Labs, the largest clean-tech incubator in North America.
Amid the pandemic, several new funds have been announced, such as Amazon’s Climate Pledge Fund, and corporations are doubling down on funding commitments.
The coronavirus is making people realize “how unprepared we’re going to be for the rapidness of climate change if we don’t act sooner,” Reichert adds.
That doesn’t make her work any easier. She’s spent the past few months figuring out how to take her incubator’s offerings online — from pitch practice to expert panels — while keeping members of the 70 or so startups at Greentown safe.
Meanwhile, Reichert is finalizing Greentown’s expansion to Houston, the heart of the oil-and-gas industry, where a second location of the incubator is expected to open in the spring of 2021.
“The general feeling is that Houston’s economy is not going to be dependent on oil and gas for more than like 10 years — maybe 20 years at the most,” she says. “They need a whole new set of industries, and that’s why the Houston area is so excited about doing something with climate tech.”