Jack Ma, Bill Gates buy into US$1b zero-emissions energy fund

Long-term fund will finance high-risk projects which could bring breakthroughs in zero-emissions energy, food-supply, transport and services

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 December, 2016, 7:57pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 December, 2016, 10:23pm

E-commerce giant Alibaba Group executive chairman Jack Ma has joined Microsoft founder Bill Gates and 18 other business and innovation leaders to set up the more than US$1 billion Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund to support the next generation of zero emission energy.

The fund will be invested in early or growth-stage companies or projects which seek solutions to enable the supply of energy, food, products, transportation and services that are both affordable and have zero emission in the production and delivery process.

“Anything that leads to cheap, clean, reliable energy we’re open-minded to,” Gates told online media

Acknowledging that investing in energy was more difficult than investing in information technology, he was quoted as saying: “People think you can just put US$50 million in and wait two years and then you know what you got. In this energy space, that’s not true at all.”

The Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund is “an investor-led fund” contributed by members of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, that invests “patiently in developing new ways to live, eat, travel, and build,” the fund’s website said.

The fund will be invested over 20 years, providing long-term and high-risk tolerant financing to projects that lead to large-scale energy transformation.

The investment targets had to bring breakthroughs to future energy generation and consumption, which could not emit carbon gases linked to climate change.

The fund’s establishment was announced by Gates just more than a year ago during the global negotiations in Paris on binding national measures to limit greenhouse-gas emissions.

The fund’s members include 28 rich individuals and families, most of them founders and chiefs of some of the world’s largest international companies and asset managers, as well as the University of California.

Individuals include online shopping giant Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, United States hedge fund Tiger Management founder Julian Robertson and Reliance Industries co-chairman Mukesh Ambani.

The combined net worth of the directors was nearly US$170 billion, based on estimates of their individual wealth by Bloomberg and Forbes.

Ma, a member of the fund’s board, said: “This fund’s establishment amalgamates innovation, scientific knowledge and talents needed to change the energy market.

“When it comes to energy, some people would say energy projects cannot meet consumers’ demand, profit and environment protection objectives all at the same time. But we can, and we will realise it.”

Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures said its fund had a longer lifespan than many other funds.

“The in-house science and technical expertise, the flexibility to invest wherever opportunities present themselves and the global network of its investors will help address the challenges of investing in energy innovation,” it said.