Bill Gates’s energy venture fund is expanding into climate adaptation and later-stage investments

Bill Gates’s energy venture fund is expanding into climate adaptation and later-stage investments thumbnail

To this point, Breakthrough has been focusing on “five grand challenge ,” backing businesses that promise to reduce climate pollution in electricity, transport, buildings and agriculture. All of these efforts can be considered climate mitigation. Climate adaptation is the development of ways to increase protections against climate change’s dangers, rather than trying to prevent it.

In an interview Eric Toone, technical leader for Breakthrough Energy Ventures’ investment panel, stated that adaptation will be a key role as global emissions continue rising and the planet warms.

“Mitigation is just not going to get them there fast enough, but suffering is unacceptable,” he said. He was referring to the line from John Holdren , President Barack Obama’s former science advisor, that there are three options to respond to climate change. They are mitigation, adaptation and suffering.

So while we will continue to focus on mitigation, our scope will be expanded to include adaptation,” Toone states.

Eric Toone discusses Breakthrough Energy’s next investment priorities at the firm’s summit.


The firm will focus on several areas, including ways to help farmers and communities grapple with increasingly common or severe droughts; such approaches could include advanced desalination technology or systems that pull moisture out of the air. Another area of focus will be to ensure crops are productive in a changing world. This could be done through indoor farming or genetically modified crops.

Toone stated that Breakthrough will also seek ways to strengthen the infrastructure at global ports, which are increasingly vulnerable to sea-level rise as well as more powerful storms. There could be opportunities for investment in dynamic mooring systems that can automatically respond to storm surges, cranes capable of operating safely in harsher and hotter conditions, and ships that can withstand more severe weather.

These new investment areas will come into effect under Breakthrough Energy’s upcoming fund, which the firm is in the process of raising, Gates told Bloomberg recently and reaffirmed at the energy event on Tuesday. The company has not yet revealed how large it will be or when it would be completed. Breakthrough has raised two funds totaling approximately $1 billion to date.

The Select fund, which is a later-stage fund that will primarily provide “large-scale, follow on” funds to allow companies to move forward with demonstration projects, is dubbed Select. These funds are designed to optimize and test technologies on larger scales but not yet commercially. Toone stated that the funding will be primarily, but not exclusively, for Breakthrough’s portfolio companies.

Temasek, a Singapore holding firm that has invested in many of the firm’s portfolio startups, will contribute to the new fund. Breakthrough has not yet disclosed the fund’s size or disclosed additional investors.

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