Bill Gates Launches Breakthrough Energy Catalyst to Boost Cleantech Funding & Innovation

The investments would accelerate cost reduction and technological maturity in four sectors - energy storage, sustainable aviation fuels, direct air capture of carbon dioxide, and green hydrogen


The co-founder of Microsoft Corporation and the billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has teamed up with a group of philanthropists, companies, and governments to launch a new climate financing program – Breakthrough Energy Catalyst. The program aims to boost investments in clean technologies that are critical for the energy transition to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The program also focuses on accelerating innovation in clean energy projects to ensure the costs decline.

Breakthrough Energy Catalyst has identified four key areas for investments – long-duration energy storage, sustainable aviation fuels, direct air capture of carbon dioxide, and green hydrogen.

According to the Catalyst group, these new technologies are ready to be deployed but are unable to draw investors. The group feels that a relatively moderate inflow of funds in these new technologies could get things rolling for the sectors.

The group suggests that, firstly, long-duration energy storage has the potential solution to intermittency in renewable energy generation, turning renewables into round-the-clock resources. Solving the issue of intermittency of wind and solar can maximize the utilization of renewable energy sources and increase the penetration of these technologies within energy infrastructures.

Aviation is recognized as a sector where emissions are hard to abate. This could change with the wider adoption of sustainable aviation fuel, which could power cargo planes and large passenger jets. These are otherwise too heavy to be powered by batteries.

Direct air capture is a key carbon removal option to capture CO2 from the atmosphere. A cheaper way of doing so could realize the zero-by-2050 goal faster.

Finally, the group points at green hydrogen as a critical contributor in decarbonizing strategies, as it is more powerful than batteries. However, when made following protocols to curb greenhouse gases, they turn out to be expensive.

Breakthrough Energy Catalyst aims to demonstrate how global decision-makers can finance, produce, and buy the new solutions that will underpin a low-carbon economy. Its end goal is to make green products follow the same cycle of early adoption, innovation, and cost reductions that made solar power affordable and accessible.

Through Breakthrough Energy Catalyst, energy-intensive sectors will be able to invest in a large refinery that produces a high volume of sustainable fuel and buy fuel there. The group suggests that as the plant meets its goal, the cost of building subsequent plants will drop. With more refineries coming up, the volume of available fuel will go up and the price will come down. This will make it more attractive to buyers and bring in more innovative companies into the market. The model is thus expected to scale up, feels the group.

Towards this end, Breakthrough Energy Catalyst and its nonprofit partner CDP are creating a tool to allow those investing in Breakthrough Energy Catalyst to calculate how much their funding will cut more emissions. This mechanism could lead to investing in clean-energy projects becoming a competitive advantage.

An interactive version of the tool is expected to be launched at the COP26 in Glasgow. CDP is slated to publish a report in September, elaborating on how the tool will work.

Breakthrough Energy Catalyst will reportedly fund its first projects next year, and its first major funding partnership has already been announced by the propagators. Over the next five years, the European Commission and Breakthrough Energy Catalyst will bring in a total of $1 billion to build large-scale, commercial demonstration projects in Europe in partnership with the European Investment Bank.

The investments would address the four areas of potential growth discussed earlier. The group aims to reduce the costs of these approaches, get them deployed faster, and help deliver on the European Union’s ambitious climate goals. The group is likely to announce more such partnerships towards the end of the year.

Green hydrogen has been steadily drawing interest from investors and researchers.

Earlier this year, a consortium comprising ITM Power, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, Orsted, and Element Energy was awarded €5 million (~$5.89 million) in funding to explore the feasibility of offshore hydrogen production.

Mercom has also reported how hydrogen harnessed from ocean water can solve India’s energy storage challenges.


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