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Bill Gates touts European clean-energy fund

Iceland geothermal energy
One of the companies in Breakthrough Energy Ventures’ portfolio is Sweden’s Baseload Capital, which invests in geothermal facilities including Varmaorka in Iceland. (Photo Courtesy of Baseload Capital)

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is celebrating the official launch of Breakthrough Energy Ventures Europe, an investment fund that aims to boost clean-energy innovation in Europe to the tune of 100 million euros. That translates to $112 million at the current rate of exchange.

Half of the money is coming from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 program, via a financing channel known as InnovFin. The other half is coming from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the $1 billion fund backed by Gates and other heavyweight investors including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Softbank Group CEO Masayoshi Son, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Alibaba Group executive chairman Jack Ma.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures was created in 2016 to invest in zero-carbon energy technologies, and it’s laid down bets on 15 ventures since then. But most of those ventures are based in the U.S. and Canada. Breakthrough Energy Ventures Europe, or BEV-E, will make sure Europe is well-represented on the clean-energy frontier.

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Energy venture fund backs a quest for cobalt

Cobalt ore
Cobalt extracted from ore is used in the lithium-ion batteries that power devices ranging from smartphones and laptops to electric vehicles. (National Institutes of Health Photo)

KoBold Metals’ quest to find new sources of cobalt, a key ingredient in lithium-ion batteries, has received high-profile backing from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the $1 billion innovation fund spearheaded by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Andreessen Horowitz also joined in the Bay Area startup’s funding round, which was disclosed today. The amount of funding, however, went undisclosed.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures was created by Gates and a bevy of other billionaires — including Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg and Jack Ma — to make long-term investments in cutting-edge energy technologies. KoBold Metals uses artificial intelligence and “machine prospecting” techniques to search for likely locations of cobalt ore.

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Breakthrough Energy Ventures backs 7 companies

Commonwealth Fusion
An artist’s conception shows the SPARC tokamak experiment that Commonwealth Fusion Systems and MIT intend to build. (MIT PSFC Visualization / Ken Filar)

Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the $1 billion energy innovation fund spearheaded by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, has revealed seven more companies in which it’s investing, including startups that aim to build fusion reactors, produce biofuels with microbes, and pull drinking water out of the air affordably.

In addition to Gates, contributors to the fund include Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, the Virgin Group’s Richard Branson, Alibaba’s Jack Ma and SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son.

The first two companies in the fund’s portfolio — Form Energy and Quidnet Energy, both focusing on power storage — came to light in June in a report published by the Quartz news website. Today Quartz has the first word about the next seven companies. Here’s the list:

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Breakthrough Energy invests in power storage

Abandoned well
Quidnet Energy co-founder Aaron Mandell says this abandoned well at the Blue Mountain Geothermal Area in Nevada could store up to 30 megawatt-hours of electricity in the form of compressed water. (Aaron Mandell via Twitter)

Eighteen months after its founding, the $1 billion Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund’s first investments have been revealed, and they both have to do with energy storage systems.

Quartz reports today that millions of dollars are going to Form Energy, which is working on novel chemistries for low-cost, long-term, high-density batteries; and Quidnet Energy, which aims to store power in the form of highly compressed water.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures is notable for its investors as well as its investments: The fund draws upon contributions from high-profile billionaires including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma.

When the fund was created in 2016 as an outgrowth of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, Gates said its goal was “to build companies that will help deliver the next generation of reliable, affordable and emissions-free energy to the world.”

In addition to grid-scale energy storage, the fund’s target technologies include zero-carbon liquid fuels, micro grids, low-carbon building materials and geothermal energy.

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