The Breakthrough Energy Ventures Fund, led by billionaire Bill Gates, and featuring 24 other billionaires as co-investors, will invest a lot of money in about 40 startups developing clean energy technologies for everything from lithium extraction to steelmaking.
Four years ago, Bill Gates launched a billion-dollar fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which has brought together more than 20 (currently 28) like-minded investors to invest in scientific discoveries that have the potential to bring cheap and reliable clean energy to the world. The ultimate goal is to bring new, zero-emission technologies to the market.
Since then, the fund has supported dozens of startups developing green technology innovations that range from replacing fossil fuels with carbon-free equivalents to creating alternatives to meat.
“We are only focusing on investments that will have a significant impact on climate change,” Gates told Forbes earlier this year. So far, one startup the fund supports has gone public through a special purpose acquisition company: solid lithium battery maker QuantumScape, which has not yet started selling its batteries. Some of the clean energy innovations that Breakthrough Energy Ventures Fund invests in are avatars, and technology development may take a decade or more. But finding solutions is imperative.
“If we want to avoid a climate catastrophe, we have to go from 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases to zero in just 30 years,” the fund says on its website.
The fund raised another $ 1 billion earlier this year to fund more startups, and Gates was the largest investor. The other 24 supporting billionaires include Indian businessman Mukesh Ambani, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Bloomberg founder Michael Bloomberg, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma, and CEO of mutual fund giant Fidelity Abigail Johnson. Gates told Forbes in February that he would “devote at least two billion dollars” to carbonless technologies over the next five years.
On Earth Day, Forbes highlights five Breakthrough Energy portfolio companies building innovative solutions to help save the planet:
Boston Metal Corporation: Low Carbon Steel
For thousands of years, steel has been produced in the same way, which is to mix iron ore with coke (a coal product) and put it in a blast furnace. The result is a high-carbon product, which is then placed in a kiln, where the carbon is burned to solidify. The entire process leads to significant carbon emissions (steelmaking accounts for 7% of all greenhouse gases annually), and Boston Metal has promised to eliminate them through a method called metal oxide electrolysis. This new technology uses electrolyte cells instead of a blast furnace, and electricity instead of carbon, ultimately emitting oxygen instead of carbon dioxide.
The electrical-based steel industry was first demonstrated by MIT researchers in the early 2010s, and it led to the creation of Boston Metal Corporation as a subsidiary. The Woburn, Massachusetts-based company completed a $ 50 million financing round early this year that was valued at $ 165 million, according to venture capital firm BeachBook. Boston Metal CEO Tadeo Carneiro says he plans to use the funds to operate the company’s pilot plant continuously by the end of 2022. After that, Carneiro hopes to build the first Boston Metal manufacturing facility by 2024 and begin commercial production the following year.
Lilac Solutions: Extraction of Lithium Laboratory
To power the growing number of electric cars around the world, car manufacturers need lithium-ion batteries. Most of the lithium in the world is found in brines, which are saltwater deposits often found in deserts. Lithium mining company Lilac Solutions offers a proprietary technology that replaces the old, water-intensive lithium extraction process with a new method that uses ion exchange beads and much less water. Founder and CEO Dave Snaker says Lilac technology is faster and cheaper than current methods. He says: “It is imperative to make the most of these brine solutions as a product.” “Other than that, all the promises made by electric car manufacturers such as General Motors, Volkswagen and Tesla that the world will be 100% electric cars cannot be fulfilled,” he says.
Lilac works with resource owners – old lithium producers, oil and gas companies looking to enter the market, and junior developers – by designing the extraction systems they use for projects. The brine is introduced into a tank filled with small beads that, through an ion exchange process, can absorb the lithium. The Auckland-based startup has ongoing projects in Chile, Argentina and the United States – the Americas being its primary focus – as well as Europe and Asia.
Pachama: Artificial Intelligence to Stop Deforestation
Entrepreneur Diego Saise Gil founded two travel startups before deciding to turn things around with Pachama. Born near the Argentine forests, Saise Gill came up with the idea for the new company after he took a road vacation through South America, where he saw major deforestation. Pachama acts as a Zillow-like platform that allows companies to purchase carbon credits to finance reforestation, which in turn will increase the amount of carbon absorbed by trees.