Bill Gates, Tech Leaders Launch Fund To Accelerate Clean Energy Innovation

( – Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates has teamed up with other technology and corporate leaders to launch the Breakthrough Energy Coalition as part of their efforts to accelerate progress on clean energy. The announcement came just as the United Nations' conference on climate change started in Paris on Sunday.

Gates, the world's richest man, said that the coalition will provide capital to support companies that are taking innovative clean-energy ideas out of the lab and into the marketplace.

The coalition of 28 private investors includes Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Amazon'sJeff Bezos, Alibaba'sJack Ma, Virgin Group'sRichard Branson, Soros Fund Management LLC'sGeorge Soros and the University of California.

Noting that the world is going to use 50 percent more energy by mid-century than it does today, Gates stressed the need to move to sources of energy that are affordable and reliable.

In his blog post, Gates said, "Private companies will ultimately develop these energy breakthroughs, but their work will rely on the kind of basic research that only governments can fund. Both have a role to play."

The current government funding levels for clean energy are insufficient to meet the challenges. The coalition will focus on early-stage companies that have the potential of an energy future that produces near zero carbon emissions and provides everyone with affordable, reliable energy, he noted.

Gates detailed three examples of promising technologies that he has learnt about. He noted that solar chemical, unlike solar photovoltaic technology or solar thermal, uses solar energy to create fuel.

According to him, solar chemical works much the same way a plant uses photosynthesis to convert sunlight into carbohydrates. The hydrogen produced from the process can be used directly as fuel or in commercial processes like making fertilizer. The solar chemical would help to decarbonize both the electricity and transportation sectors as well as help a lot with the storage problem.

Gates' second idea is about flow batteries. Rather than using self-contained cells like lithium-ion batteries – the current gold standard for storing electricity, flow batteries utilize a rechargeable liquid electrolyte inside two pairs of tanks and are much more sustainable than lithium-ion batteries.

He also mentioned an example of solar paint that could transform almost any surface- rooftops, walls, cars and cellphones – into a cheap solar panel. It involves applying a conductive layer, then a white base layer, and finally a light-sensitive dye on top that generates the electricity, and applying heat to cure the paint.

At the Paris Climate Summit, another initiative known as 'Mission Innovation' was announced. This is a commitment by more than ten countries to invest more in research on clean energy.