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Gates, Bezos-backed fund offers $1bn to clean energy start-ups

Bill Gates at Hioe Charity Forum. (Image courtesy of Greg Rubenstein | Flickr Commons.)

Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), the clean-tech fund backed by billionaires including Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Michael Bloomberg, has raised $1 billion for the second time in four years to help start-ups capable of cutting global emissions.

Founded in 2016, the venture capital fund backed 45 emerging companies with its first billion and it is now planning to support between 40 and 50 emerging businesses.

BEV’s newly created project, called Breakthrough Energy Catalyst, aims to finance, produce, and buy “clean” products and technologies, such as greener steel and cement, long-haul transport and energy storage, which will help underpin a zero-carbon economy. 

To be eligible for funding, a start-up needs to showcase a scientifically sound technology that has the potential to reduce annual global greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 500 million tonnes a year. Global emissions currently measure about 34 billion tonnes a year, partly thanks to the curtailment of global economic activity and mobility in 2020 due to the covid-19 pandemic.

Investors’ new favourite

Investment in green technologies has soared over the past two years. According to the latest PwC report on the state of climate tech, venture capital money flowing into start-ups that can help cut emissions hit $16 billion in 2019, up from $400 million in 2013 — a 40-fold increase.

BEV’s first billion was directed to companies developing complex technologies to support clean cobalt and lithium mining, electric aviationhydropower turbines and, most recently, emissions-free steel.

VC investment in Climate Tech and number of deals
Source: The State of Climate Tech 2020: The next frontier for venture capital, by PwC.

 “We have built a great technical team and our ability to close a second fund is a testament to their good work,” Eric Toone, BEV’s technical lead, told Bloomberg News.

The fund has had some newsworthy wins. QuantumScape (NYSE: QS), which makes next-generation lithium-ion batteries, listed on the New York Stock Exchange in September. Its market capitalization is currently close to $20 billion, up from $3 billion, even though its batteries won’t be available before 2025.