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Bill Gates-led investor group launch more than $1B clean energy tech fund

Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and 20 other leading juggernauts of industry have committed more than $1 billion to a new clean energy technology fund aimed at combating climate change.

Philanthropist and Microsoft Corp. co-founder Gates on Dec. 12 launched the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund that will focus on investing in early stage and growth clean tech companies that have the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Potential technologies listed on the fund's site include various renewables, nuclear fusion, "next-generation" nuclear fission, storage, building efficiency and insulation, and carbon dioxide capture. With an estimated $170 billion in total wealth, Quartz reported, those behind Breakthrough Energy Ventures could be the "richest group of investors ever assembled."

"It is a pretty amazing group," Gates said in a conference call. The former Microsoft CEO said the fund expects to hire key people in the next three months and will partner with institutions such as the University of California for research and energy companies such as Southern Co. and Total SA to determine which technologies are the most promising.

John Doerr, a board member for the fund and chairman of the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byer, said the vision for the fund is to create a global network of the best scientists, innovators and business leaders to support clean tech entrepreneurs. "The global reach and scale and the experience of this investor group is really going to expand the possibilities for partnerships throughout the world, whether with governments or other private sector leaders or academic and research institutions," he said.

The investor-led fund consists of members of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which was founded in November 2015 by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Gates and others to support clean energy research and development by governments. The fund is headed by a board of directors that also includes venture capitalists John Arnold and Vinod Khosla; Alibaba executive head Jack Ma, Reliance Industries Ltd. co-chairman Mukesh Ambani; and co-founder and chairman of German software company SAP SE Hasso Plattner. In addition to Amazon Inc. CEO and founder Bezos, other investors include former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson, Bridgewater Associate founder Ray Dalio, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, among others.

Arnold, a board member, said the fund has a unique "dual mandate": investments must be capable of both having a positive effect on the environment and making a financial return. "We will not consider an investment unless it has the potential to have a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions," he said. "This high bar ensures that we will fund revolutionary technologies rather than the evolutionary ones."

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, or ITIF, a leading U.S. science and tech policy think tank, in a news release welcomed the commitment by the investment group and said it underscores the need for governments to play their part. "The public sector needs to invest more in [research and development], reform tax incentives so that they drive clean-energy innovation, and develop more sophisticated regulatory tools to manage energy markets," ITIF said. "The public and private sector have key complementary roles to take. Unless both play their respective roles, we are not going to get where we need to go."