His private jet habit may be controversial, but there’s no denying that Bill Gates is putting his money where his mouth is in other areas of sustainability. The Microsoft founder-supported private-public fund Breakthrough Energy Catalyst (BEC) is preparing to make investments worth as much as $15 billion into aviation-related cleantech projects.
Will billions in funding solve aviation’s decarbonization problem? Photo: Getty Images
American Airlines co-investor
The BEC investments will be divided across businesses in the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Funds will focus on financing ventures aimed at decarbonization and supporting emerging technologies – sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), green hydrogen, direct carbon air capture, and energy storage.
Thus far, BEC has raised $1.5 billion in private capital. However, its managing director Jonah Goldman, told the Financial Times that the fund would mobilize ten times the initial funding utilizing ‘innovative partnership agreements and financial structures’. American Airlines is among the private sector companies that have contributed to the fund.
“We are last-mile financing and so, we will be the most risky capital in there. We’re really trying to demonstrate which of the technological pathways are going to be most effective,” Goldman said earlier this week.
Reducing the green premium
BEC is part of the Breakthrough Energy group, which billionaire Bill Gates started in 2015. It does not expect or promise to generate financial returns. Instead, it is focused on bringing down the cost of the ‘green premium’. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has also contributed to the fund, along with the US Department of Energy, the UK government, and the European Commission.
It has already invested in hydrogen fuel-cell developer ZeroAvia. The company aims to operate the first hydrogen-fuelled passenger flight between London and The Hague in 2024 and has already won favor with Alaska Airlines, United Airlines, and De Havilland.
Testing technologies at scale
These investments could lead to lowering the costs for sustainable aviation fuels. Currently, these are two to four times as expensive as conventional fossil-based fuel and are generally considered one of the most significant pieces of the net-zero puzzle. Perhaps, in the end, billionaires will give something directly back to the more humble population and save a few extra euros on airfare.
“There’s six different ways to do sustainable aviation fuel, and we know they all work and they all have different challenges. We just need to build a bunch of them to see where we’re able to get the green premium reductions, through things like engineering learning. (…) We know you can do it. You just need to see if you can do it at scale in an economic way,” Goldman continued.