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Bill Gates-backed fund partners with EU on €100M clean energy drive

A group of investors led by Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates is putting up €50 million for a new investment fund to support European companies working to bring new clean energy technologies to the market.

The contribution from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, an investment vehicle chaired by Gates and backed by a who's who of executives that also includes Inc. founder Jeff Bezos and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.'s Jack Ma, will be matched by another €50 million from the European Investment Bank, according to a May 29 release by the European Commission.

"Successfully tackling climate change needs CO2-neutral energy production — and we do not have much time to achieve this. Deployment of cutting-edge technologies must be accelerated," Ambroise Fayolle, vice president of the European Investment Bank responsible for innovation, said in a statement.

The fund, called Breakthrough Energy Ventures Europe, will invest in the electricity, transportation, agriculture, manufacturing and buildings sectors and is targeting to start funding in the second half of this year.

The commission said the EIB's share of the investment will be guaranteed by InnovFin, the financial instrument funded through EU research and innovation program Horizon 2020, and the entire pot will be open to EU member countries and states associated with the program. Those include non-EU members like Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and Israel.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures invests in early-stage projects that promise a positive climate impact and Maroš Šefčovič, vice president of the European Commission responsible for energy, said the partnership project would bring the bloc closer to its ambitious climate goals, although much more investment was needed.

"Business as usual is not an option," Šefčovič said in a statement. "We need to boost our investments with more than €500 billion each year to achieve a carbon neutral economy by 2050."

In February, the EU launched a €10 billion investment program for low-carbon technologies including, for the first time, energy storage. The program came on the heels of an ambitious proposal by the European Commission, the EU's executive, to make the bloc carbon-neutral by mid-century.

That strategy is not final yet but has gained traction among member states in recent months, with both France and the U.K. moving closer to legislating for similar goals and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also recently pledging to ask advisers for a pathway to slash emissions to net zero.