Billion Dollar Energy Fund Expands its Portfolio of Startups Fighting Climate Change

By Akshat Rathi, Quartz

It’s not often that the world’s richest people get together, agree on a goal that’s for the public good, and then set about finding ways to achieve it. But that’s what Bill Gates has achieved with Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), which aims to invest $1 billion into radical energy startups capable of drastically cutting global emissions. The fund draws on the resources of billionaires like India’s Mukesh Ambani, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, Virgin’s Richard Branson, Alibaba’s Jack Ma, and SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son.

In June, Quartz broke the story of BEV’s first two investments: Form Energy, which is developing two new types of battery chemistries capable of storing weeks and months worth of energy, respectively, and Quidnet Energy, which is developing a technology to replicate the benefits of hydropower by pumping water into subsurface shale formations.

We can now report, for the first time, a full list of the other companies that BEV is funding and will publicly acknowledge. (Some companies in its portfolio prefer not to be named, says Carmichael Roberts, BEV’s head of investing, while BEV plans to announce others at a later stage.)

QuantumScape: A startup building an all-solid-state battery, which many experts believe is key to the future of electric cars.

Commonwealth Fusion Systems: A firm working on a nuclear-fusion reactor that uses high-temperature superconductors and aims to be the first fusion system to produce net-positive energy.

Pivot Bio: A biotech company developing a microbial solution that can replace nitrogen fertilizers, reduce nitrogen runoff, and eliminate the related production of nitrous oxide—a greenhouse gas 300 times as powerful as carbon dioxide.

CarbonCure: A firm that is injecting recycled carbon dioxide into concrete to increase its strength compared to conventional concrete. The result is cost savings and carbon reductions for the concrete industry.

Fervo Energy: A startup rethinking geothermal power with the help of modern computational models and horizontal-drilling technology. Fervo hopes that the technology it is developing will cut the cost of geothermal power by some 50%.

DMC Biotechnologies: A company tailoring microbes to produce high-value chemicals, including biofuels. DMC claims to have technology that can cut costs and save time needed to scale up biological synthesis.

Zero Mass Water: A startup selling specialized panels that use solar power and batteries to pull water from the air. The goal is to reduce the amount of energy needed to access clean drinking water without geographical limitations.

It’s a Betting Game

Gates has invested in a handful of energy companies before. In the process, he’s learned that energy startups are not like software companies. These startups progress slowly and at great expense, earning them the moniker “tough tech” because they work on difficult problems that require fundamental breakthroughs. Investors need to be willing to put forward not just money, but also support for scientists transitioning to becoming entrepreneurs or first-time founders learning to run a company.

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