Bill Gates Wants To Invest Billions To Make Aviation Cleaner

His private jet habit can be controversial, but it’s undeniable that Bill Gates puts his money into other areas of sustainability. The Microsoft founder-backed Breakthrough Energy Catalyst (BEC) fund is preparing to make investments of up to $15 billion in aviation-related clean technology projects.

Will financing billions solve the problem of decarbonizing aviation? Photo: Getty Images

Co-Investor in American Airlines

BEC’s investments will be split across companies in the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. Funds will focus on financing projects aimed at decarbonization and supporting emerging technologies – sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), green hydrogen, direct carbon air capture, and energy storage.

To date, 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 seed funding using “innovative partnership agreements and financial structures”. American Airlines is among the private sector companies that have contributed to the fund.

“We are funding the last mile, and therefore, we will be the most risky capital out there. We are really trying to prove which technology paths will be most effective,” Goldman said earlier this week.

Carbon budget in the air
Cleantech projects the fund is looking to support include direct carbon capture, SAF, green hydrogen production, and how to store energy more efficiently. Photo: Getty Images

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Green premium reduction

BEC is part of the Breakthrough Energy group, which was started by billionaire Bill Gates in 2015. It neither expects nor promises financial returns. Instead, it focuses on lowering the cost of the “green premium”. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos 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-fueled passenger flight between London and The Hague in 2024 and has already won concessions with Alaska Airlines, United Airlines and de Havilland.

airBaltic SAF
Investments in SAF will focus on lowering green premiums associated with aviation more sustainably. Photo: airBaltic

Large-scale testing techniques

These investments can lower the costs of sustainable aviation fuel. Currently, the cost of these fuels is two to four times that of conventional fossil fuels and is generally considered one of the most important pieces in the net zero puzzle. Perhaps, in the end, the billionaires will return something directly to the most modest population and save a few extra euros on airline tickets.

“There are six different ways to use sustainable aviation fuels, and we know they all work and they all face different challenges. We just need to build a set of them to see where we can get the excellent green cuts, through things like engineering learning. (…) We know you can do that. You just need to see if you can do it on a large scale and in an economical way,” Follow Goldman.

What do you think of this public and private investment structure? Do you know the companies you would like to finance? Where should the initial efforts lie? Leave a comment below and join the conversation about sustainable flying and racing to net zero.

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