Bill Gates, a former Microsoft employee, participated in a $60 million round for Neos GeoSolutions, which has devised sensors and software for figuring out where to drill for oil, mine for rocks or dig for natural gas.
Kleiner, Perkins and the Energy Capital Group (out of the Middle East) are existing investors. So is Goldman Sachs.
It's a bit of a switch. Gates has invested in a few green companies in recent years, including EcoMotors, which produces a highly efficient car engine. He also plunked money into TerraPower, which wants to produce a modular traveling-wave nuclear reactor that can run on spent nuclear fuel. His pal Nathan Myhrvold helped come up with that. Nuclear fuel isn't green itself, but nuclear energy does not produce carbon emissions.
Arguably, Neo Geo is green to some extent. Better drilling techniques can potentially make drilling more surgical. The company also provided subsea survelliance technology for the BP oil spill. But generally, the company's goal is to reduce the risk and cost in activities like offshore drilling. Lower costs means more competition for solar and biofuels.
Potentially, the software could pave the way for new activities. Nautilus Minerals has been exploring the possibilities of offshore gold and zinc mining for years. The first trial will occur in New Guinea.
Back in 2005, I actually spoke to Gates about clean energy at the end of a taping at CES. I noticed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation had put money into Amyris, which had developed a malaria medicine. I told him that a scientist I had met a few weeks earlier, Steve Chu from Lawrence Berkeley Lab, told me that Amyris could use the same basic technology to produce biofuels. Gates sort of shrugged. Apparently, he hadn't caught green fever yet (Few investors had, to be honest).