Batteries, fusion, and hydropower: Meet the 26 startups that Bill Gates is betting on to revolutionize the future of energy

  • Microsoft cofounder and former CEO Bill Gates is the third richest person in the world, with a net worth over $110 billion. 
  • He's invested a sizeable chunk of cash into clean-energy companies, largely through a billion-dollar fund he spearheads called Breakthrough Energy Ventures. 
  • Gates funds a wide range of technologies, but many of them fall within the categories of long-duration storage, nuclear energy, and carbon capture. 
  • Business Insider compiled a list of the 26 clean-energy companies that Gates has backed through one of his investment vehicles, using data from PitchBook. 
  • For more stories like this, sign up here for our weekly energy newsletter.

Bill Gates, Microsoft's cofounder and the third-richest person in the world, recently compared the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic to that of climate change. 

"As awful as this pandemic is, climate change could be worse," he wrote on his blog in early August. "In the next decade or two, the economic damage caused by climate change will likely be as bad as having a COVID-sized pandemic every ten years."

Gates advocates for zero emissions, but emphasizes that such a goal won't be possible simply by flying and driving less, and by limiting consumption of other forms of energy, especially in less-wealthy regions that are energy-poor.

Instead, he says, we should invest in clean energy. 

"Of course, cutting back is a good thing for those who can afford to do it, as I can," he wrote. "But overall, the world should be using more energy, not less — as long as it is clean." 

Getting clean energy technologies to market has been a core part of Gates' investment strategy. 

His most public venture vehicle, Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), has more than $1 billion in assets under management and involves a coalition of extremely high-net-worth individuals. Richard Branson, Michael Bloomberg, Ray Dalio, and Vinod Khosla are all investors in BEV, one of the world's most active clean-energy venture funds. 

Read more: Top oil companies invested $9 billion in clean energy deals since 2016. We ranked the 6 biggest spenders.

Bill Gates.Mike Cohen/Getty Images for The New York Times

Gates has also invested in startups through other funds including Gates Ventures, Cascade Investments, and Village Global, according to the startup finance database PitchBook.

He's backed a wide range of technologies, but many of them fall within two categories.

The first is long-duration energy storage — essentially, big batteries that can store power for days or months at low-cost. 

"Finding ways to store that energy to use after the sun sets and the wind stops blowing is a big challenge we need to solve," he wrote in an earlier blog post. 

The second is a mix of nuclear energy and carbon capture, a seemingly unusual pairing.

Citing an MIT study, he said that if the energy transition includes nuclear power and carbon capture and storage technologies — which can reduce emissions from fossil fuel plants — it would "make carbon-free electricity up to 62 percent cheaper than using renewables alone."

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Crucially, he says, "clean sources of energy need to be cheap enough so that low- and middle-income countries can buy them."

Business Insider compiled a list of clean-energy startups that received investment from Gates or one of his investment funds, according to data from PitchBook and company statements.

The startups below are listed by how much total capital they've raised in increasing order. 

This story was originally published on April 16. It was updated with new investment data and we added two new startups, enVerid Systems and Redwood Materials.

Bluefield Technologies — $2 million

Year founded: 2017

What it is: The startup measures methane emissions using imagery gathered by backpack-sized satellites. "Our sensor detects the spectral signature of methane in sunlight that is reflected off the ground. We then use machine vision algorithms to further enhance the optically rich data our sensor captures," the company's website states. 

Total raised: Over $2 million, the company said in April

Other notable investors: Sequoia Capital and former Microsoft executive Charlie Songhurst, according to the company

Seaborg — $6 million

Year founded: 2014

What it is: Denmark-based Seaborg is developing compact molten salt nuclear reactors designed to limit waste. The startup is planning to have commercial reactors by 2027. 

Total raised: About $6 million in equity. That doesn't include an additional $2 million in grants, the company said in April. 

Other notable investors: PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel, according to PitchBook

 

 

Heliogen — $9 million

Year founded: 2013 

What it is: The startup's system uses a mosaic of mirrors to concentrate sunlight, which generates extreme heat necessary for industrial processes like cement or steel manufacturing. The technology could eventually replace fossil fuels in those processes, as Business Insider previously reported. 

Total raised: About $9 million, per PitchBook. In April, a company spokesperson declined to share the total capital raised and mentioned that Heliogen is preparing to announce new funding. 

Other notable investors: Energy giant NRG Energy and Brad Feld, cofounding partner of Foundry Group, according to PitchBook

Arnergy — $9 million

Year founded: 2013

What it is: Nigeria-based Arnergy sells distributed energy solutions, such as rooftop solar and storage, in emerging markets. 

Total raised: About $9 million, the company said in April

Other notable investors: Norfund, a private-equity fund founded by the Norwegian government, according to PitchBook

Fervo Energy — $11 million

Year founded: 2017

What it is: California-based Fervo Energy is a geothermal energy startup. Geothermal energy typically refers to using the heat stored in the Earth's crust to power turbines or heat homes. 

Total raised: About $11 million, the company said

Fervo Energy's cofounder, Tim Latimer, is one of Business Insider's rising stars of clean energy. See the full list of 21 emerging leaders here. 

CarbonCure — $11 million

Year founded: 2007

What it is: CarbonCure sells a technology that enhances concrete using recycled carbon dioxide, or CO2. The company pumps CO2 into wet concrete while it's being mixed, at which point the gas reacts with water and calcium ions in the cement, forming solid limestone. The carbon is stuck in the limestone indefinitely. What's more, is that this mineralization process makes ready-mix concrete slightly stronger than some alternatives, according to the company. 

Total raised: About $11 million, per PitchBook. That amount does not include recent, undisclosed funding. 

CarbonCure's president, Jennifer Wagner, is one of Business Insider's rising stars of clean energy. See the full list of 21 emerging leaders here. 

SparkMeter — $14 million

Year founded: 2013

What it is: SparkMeter designs and sells smart meters and other equipment to utilities in developing markets. The startup's technology "enables utilities operating in remote locations to access a range of features  — prepaid billing, customer communications, and remote monitoring and control — that improve their operations and help them achieve financial sustainability," the company's website says. 

Total raised: About $14 million, the company said in April

Other notable investors: Clean Energy Ventures, Powerhouse Ventures, and energy giant Total's venture arm, Total Carbon Neutrality Ventures, according to PitchBook

Quidnet Energy — $18 million

Year founded: 2013

What it is: A startup that develops a pumped-hydro energy storage technology. Water is pumped into an underground cavern, where it becomes pressurized, and then released to power energy-generating turbines.  

Total raised: About $18 million, according to CrunchBase

Other notable investors: Clean Energy Venture Group and the Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation, according to PitchBook

Lilac Solutions — $24 million

Year founded: 2016

What it is: Lilac developed a technique to extract the element lithium — used to make lithium-ion batteries, which power electric cars — in a more efficient and cost-effective way, the company says.

Total raised: About $24 million, according to the company

Read more: Inside the $1 billion race to develop breakthrough batteries that could store up to 40% more energy and revolutionize our phones, cars, and planes

75F — $25 million

Year founded: 2012

What it is: 75F is a smart-building startup that sells various tools to make commercial buildings more energy-efficient. The company says it can cut costs by up to 50%. 

Total raised: $25 million, the company said in April

Other notable investors: A funding coalition led by executives in the oil and gas industry known as the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, and the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator, per PitchBook

Malta — $26 million

Year founded: 2018

What it is: Incubated at Alphabet's secretive X, known formerly as Google X, Malta develops a long-duration energy storage technology. The startup turns surplus electricity into thermal energy — both heat and cold, which are stored separately — which it can then convert back into electricity. 

Total raised: $26 million, the company said in April

Malta's CEO, Ramya Swaminathan, is one of Business Insider's rising stars of clean energy. See the full list of 21 emerging leaders here. 

Boston Metal — $30 million

Year founded: 2012

What it is: MIT spinout Boston Metal uses a process called molten oxide electrolysis to turn raw metals into molten products used by various industries, such as steel production. The startup says the process produces far less carbon dioxide emissions. 

Total raised: $30 million, the company said in April, which does not include several million in government grants

Other notable investors: Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, per PitchBook

Varentec — $37 million

Year founded: 2009

What it is: The Silicon Valley startup sells hardware and software to optimize the electric grid. The technology can reduce the "voltage volatility" by as much as 72% and prevent watt loss, the company says. 

Total raised: About $37 million, per PitchBook

Other notable investors: 3M Ventures and Khosla Ventures, according to a public statement

Redwood Materials — $39 million

Year founded: 2017

What it is: Helmed by Tesla's former CTO and cofounder, Redwood Materials is developing an advanced battery recycling operation to make the process of building lithium-ion cells used in electric cars more sustainable. 

Total raised: About $39 million, per PitchBook

Other notable investors: Capricorn Investment Group and Tesla, according to PitchBook

Natel Energy — $48 million

Year founded: 2009

What it is: California-based Natel Energy is a hydropower startup that is developing small, fish-friendly turbines, which the company says are cheaper to build and easier to permit. Unlike traditional hydropower dams, which are massive, expensive, and generally considered environmentally destructive, Natel's turbines are designed to benefit the river ecosystem and fit within a structure closer to the size of a beaver dam. As a result, they require minimal excavation. 

Total raised: About $33 million, per PitchBook

Other notable investors: Schneider Electric Ventures, according to a public statement

Natel Energy's cofounder and CEO, Gia Schneider, is one of Business Insider's rising stars of clean energy. See the full list of 21 emerging leaders here. 

ESS Inc. — $47 million

Year founded: 2011

What it is: ESS manufactures flow batteries. Unlike a traditional cell, flow batteries store an electrical charge in two tanks of liquid electrolyte. In this case, the electrolyte contains a mixture of iron, salt, and water. When the battery is plugged in, charged atoms called ions flow between the two tanks, generating an electric current.

Total raised: About $47 million, the company said in April

Other notable investors: Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator, per PitchBook

Form Energy — $51 million

Year founded: 2017

What it is: Form Energy, a storage startup run by a Tesla veteran, is developing a handful of different electrochemical batteries designed for grid-scale storage. According to the company, its batteries will last for hundreds of hours. And at that duration, they'll be far cheaper than Li-ion alternatives, the company said. 

Total raised: $51 million, per PitchBook

Other notable investors: Eni Next, Macquarie Asset Management, and Saudi Aramco Energy Ventures, according to PitchBook

Read more: A startup run by a Tesla veteran and backed by Bill Gates is promising to build a long-duration battery that's 50 to 100 times cheaper than lithium-ion

enVerid Systems— $60 million

Year founded: 2010

What it is: Based outside of Boston, enVerid Systems developed a high-efficiency heating and cooling technology that uses as much as 30% less energy than traditional systems. While traditional HVAC systems rely on bulky machines that continuously suck in large amounts of air into a building, as a way to keep it clean, enVerid's device recycles indoor air, instead, by running it through an advanced filter that can remove molecular pollutants, including carbon dioxide.

Total raised: $60 million, according to the company

Read more: Why a startup born out of Alphabet's secretive X lab thinks digging a hole in your yard could be the future of energy

Sierra Energy — $63 million

Year founded: 2004

What it is: Sierra Energy is commercializing a gasification technology that can turn municipal waste into valuable products like diesel and hydrogen gas.

Total raised: About $63 million, including $30 million the startup received through its parent company, Sierra Railroad Company, the company said in April

Read more: Meet Sierra Energy, a Bill Gates-backed startup that's raised $90 million to turn your trash into fuel

Ambri — $80 million

Year founded: 2010

What it is: MIT spinout Ambri is developing a liquid-metal battery for long-duration storage. 

Total raised: About $80 million, the company said in April

Other notable investors: Khosla Ventures and Total Carbon Neutrality Ventures, according to the company

Carbon Engineering — $84

Year founded: 2009

What it is: Carbon Engineering designed a direct-air capture technology for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Total raised: About $84 million, not including government grants, the company said in April

Other notable investors: Oil and gas giants Chevron, BHP, and Occidental, according to PitchBook

Read more: Microsoft just committed $1 billion to carbon capture and removal to fight climate change. These are the 5 buzziest startups working to bring that technology to market.

Commonwealth Fusion Systems — $115 million

Year founded: 2017

What it is: MIT spinout Commonwealth Fusion Systems is developing a compact reactor to generate nuclear fusion, a source of clean energy. 

Total raised: More than $200 million, according to the company

Other notable investors: Khosla Ventures, oil giant Equinor, and Devonshire Investors, the company said

Read more: A fusion startup backed by Jeff Bezos just raised another $65 million, signaling that investors are still betting on this 'Holy Grail' technology

Mainspring Energy — $133 million

Year founded: 2010

What it is: Formerly known as EtaGen, Mainspring Energy develops a technology called a linear generator, which uses a reaction between air and fuel to move magnets through copper coils and generate electricity. The company says it's efficient and produces "near-zero" nitrogen oxide emissions. 

Total raised: $133 million, the company said in April

Other notable investors: Equinor and Khosla Ventures, per the company

TerraPower — $178 million

Year founded: 2006

What it is: Launched by Bill Gates himself, TerraPower is developing various nuclear technologies including a modular reactor that uses molten chloride instead of water as a coolant, as Business Insider previously reported. TerraPower believes the design will be safer and more efficient than today's reactors.

Total raised: $178 million, per PitchBook

Other notable investors: Khosla Ventures, according to PitchBook

1366 Technologies — $107 million

Year founded: 2007

What it is: The Boston-based startup makes wafers for solar panels directly from molten silicon. 

Total raised: About $107 million, the company said in April

Other notable investors: Solar energy giant First Solar and General Electric, per PitchBook

QuantumScape — $996 million

Year founded: 2010

What it is: Stanford spinout QuantumScape is developing solid-state batteries — which, unlike lithium-ion batteries, rely on solid-not-liquid electrolytes — in partnership with Volkswagen. Volkswagen says solid-state batteries would more than double the range of its electric e-Golf care. The company is planning to go public at a valuation of $3.3 billion. 

Total raised: $996 million, according to PitchBook

Investors: Volkswagen, Khosla Ventures, and Kleiner Perkins, per PitchBook 

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