The newly-established €100 million fund will help innovative European companies bring “radically new” clean energy technologies to the market, including the “holy grail” of batteries, the European Commission said.
Bill Gates, the founder and former CEO of Microsoft now turned philanthropist, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the European Commission in Brussels on Wednesday (17 October) to establish the joint fund, called “Breakthrough Energy Europe”.
With a capitalisation of €100 million, the European fund is smaller than Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), a $1 billion investor-led fund chaired by Bill Gates, which aims “to build companies that will help deliver the next generation of reliable, affordable, and emissions-free energy to the world.”
In fact, half of the equity will come from Breakthrough Energy while the other half will come from InnovFin, a risk-sharing financial instrument funded through Horizon 2020, the EU’s current research and innovation programme.
BEV has made about 20 investments since it was launched in December 2016, “but so far it has been fairly US-centric,” Gates admitted. “So here we’re going to add a lot of European-based investments,” he told the press in Brussels.
“Europe’s leadership” on climate change “is more important today than ever,” Gates said, citing areas such as steelmaking and fertilisers where there was great potential to decrease emissions significantly.
Gates said Europe had leading companies in what he called “the industrial economy” and the agricultural sector, which are big emitters of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.
The European Commission, for its part, said the innovative part of the new fund will reside in the “high-risk investments” in which public institutions are typically not involved.
“We want private investors to have much more say in what should be funded with this money. Because very often they can be much faster to make decisions,” said Maroš Šefčovič, the vice-president of the European Commission in charge of the Energy Union.
“The holy grail is energy storage,” Šefčovič admitted, saying batteries and other storage solutions were needed not just to decarbonise transport and energy but also for industrial cycles like steel production.
Gates said he had personally invested money into a number of battery companies, “some of which are still in business, some which are not,” something he said underscores the need to take risks in areas with high-growth potential.
To address climate change, Breakthrough Energy Ventures says emissions must be reduced in five key sectors of the economy – electricity, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing, and buildings.
To do that, it mapped out a “landscape of innovation”, with a list of 55 “technical quests” where research and innovation can bring the world closer to an emission-free future.