Billionaire-Backed Breakthrough Energy Ventures Makes 7 More Investments

The fund started by Bill Gates backs R&D into fusion power, capturing water from the air and carbon in concrete, and other long-range efforts.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures has made seven more long-range bets on startups promising everything from fusion power to solar panels that capture water from the atmosphere — as well as a few more practical concepts. 

Last week, the $1 billion fund that counts billionaires Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma, Richard Branson, Masayoshi Son and Michael Bloomberg as investors announced its second round of investments, following its June stakes in next-generation battery startup Form Energy and underground pumped hydro storage startup Quidnet Energy

The new roster of startups includes one more energy storage startup: QuantumScape, a solid-state (lithium-metal anode) battery startup which had already raised $100 million from Volkswagen Group, as well as investments from Kleiner Perkins and Khosla Ventures, the firms of BEV investors and Silicon Valley venture capitalists John Doerr and Vinod Khosla. 

But the rest of BEV’s new investments cover new territory, ranging from new ways to capture carbon and make fertilizer, to fusion power and atmospheric water harvesting. Here are the companies.

BEV didn’t disclose how much money it has invested in each startup, although it noted that it has invested about $100 million of its $1 billion fund to date, with typical investments ranging from less than $1 million to about $20 million. 

BEV’s “patient capital” model differs significantly from the traditional technology VC approach, which typically demands a five-year window for realizing a return on investments. But this model hasn’t worked as well for startups exploring energy technologies that require years of upfront R&D in partnership with universities or national laboratories, as well as long-term relationships with utilities and well-capitalized energy industry partners. 

BEV, by contrast, makes its investments over a 20-year period, intends to offer larger amounts of capital to companies that can be commercialized, and also plans to partner closely with university labs.

Both Khosla's and Doerr’s firms have made some failed investments in energy-related startups — think Fisker Automotive or KiOR, to take two prominent examples. 

In a conference call last year, Doerr highlighted this experience as guiding BEV’s investments, which require “a really long point of view,” as well as commitments to put several multiples more capital into companies compared to an average VC investment.