The Future of Clean Energy is Filthy Rich

Getty Images / Alex Wong

Bill Gates is putting his weight behind a foundation seeking to develop radical ideas to fight climate change.

The Breakthrough Energy Ventures, announced Monday, aims to invest in technologies and companies best suited to reducing carbon emissions. Over the next 20 years the $1 billion fund wants to bring ideas that show the most potential to mass commercialization. The mission: “investing patiently in developing new ways to live, eat, travel, and build.”

“Our goal is to build companies that will help deliver the next generation of reliable, affordable, and emissions-free energy to the world,” said Gates, who will serve as chairman, on Monday. “I am honored to work along with these investors to build on the powerful foundation of public investment in basic research.”

Gates announced the wider coalition in March last year, but the new ventures fund has a wide team of backers dedicated to funding the coalition’s main goals. Estimates place the total worth of the directors at around $170 billion, and includes big names like Alibaba founder Jack Ma and SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner.

The group could research a number of ideas, and the money to back it up:

“We need to create new companies to push the boundaries of innovation,” says Hasso Plattner, co-founder of SAP, a German multinational software corporation, who’s on the Breakthrough Ventures board. “The businesses that Breakthrough Energy Ventures will fund and grow are going to develop the disruptive technology to help satisfy the world’s energy needs while also limiting the impact on our environment.”

But that has not always been the case, a point noted by another board member, John Arnold, a billionaire and former hedge fund manager who specialized in natural gas trading at Centaurus Advisors, a fund he founded.

“The dearth of venture funding for clean energy technologies threatens to create a valley of death for the industry, with emerging ideas unable to find the necessary capital to reach commercialization,” Arnold said. “As an investor led effort, Breakthrough Energy Ventures is designed as a source of patient capital to spur innovation to meet the growing demand for low-cost, clean energy solutions.”

One that Gates himself has expressed an interest in before is turning solar rays into fuel. It may be a while off, but experts believe that liquid fuel could be closer than many assume. Gates himself sees it as “very doable,” and if it came to fruition, it could help radically change the economics around solar power.

Since stepping down as chairman of Microsoft, Gates has taken an active role in making a difference to people’s lives. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a similar long-term venture from the Microsoft co-founder, is the world’s wealthiest organization of its kind and counts eradicating malaria as among its long-term goals.

Like the foundation’s broad-based goals, Gates is keeping the organization’s options open when it comes to eradicating climate change. “Anything that leads to cheap, clean, reliable energy we’re open-minded to,” Gates said in a story published Sunday.

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