Bill Gates

Tech billionaires create $1bn fund to accelerate clean energy innovation

Image credit: Reuters

A group of billionaires led by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has announced a new $1bn fund to help finance research into innovative emissions-free energy technologies.

The Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund is the first investment of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, formed in December last year during the UN climate talks in Paris.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as well as Amazon chief Jeff Bezos support the venture, which aims to assist new companies in taking promising basic research ideas from lab to market.

“We need affordable and reliable energy that doesn’t emit greenhouse gas to power the future and to get it we need a different model for investing in good ideas,” Gates told online magazine Quartz, according to excerpts of the interview published on Gates Notes.

The fund aims to remove hurdles facing new unproven technologies, which prevents many promising ideas from reaching the market.

“Too often we let what we think we know limit what is possible,” said Jack Ma, Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group, who also backs the initiative. “When it comes to energy, people say you cannot make money, meet demand and also benefit the environment. But we can and we will. This effort will combine technological innovation and scientific knowledge with the investment expertise needed to transform energy markets.”

During a call with reporters in Monday, Gates said the initiative will lobby the new US President Donald Trump to take climate change seriously.

Trump’s election has raised questions about future US government spending on clean energy research and development. Trump previously called climate change a hoax invented by the Chinese, but has more recently softened his stance, saying he has an ‘open mind’ on the issue.

“The dialogue with the new administration as it comes in about how they see energy research will be important... the general idea that research is a good deal fortunately is not a partisan thing,” Gates told Quartz.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures plans to collaborate with other investors, governments, research institutions and corporate partners to create an investor-led fund with internal scientific expertise that will be able to identify and nurture the most promising technologies.

“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 commercialisation,” said John Arnold, co-chair of the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. “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.”

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