As the world’s richest man, Bill Gates has the financial means and high-profile connections to make a difference in the world and that’s exactly what he’s trying to do.
At the climate change summit in Paris yesterday, the Microsoft co-founder announced the launch of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a multi-billion-dollar initiative to fund new clean energy technologies.
"We need to bring the cost premium for being clean down," Gates said Monday in an interview with CNN's New Day. "You need the innovation so that the cost of clean is lower than the coal based energy generation."
Comprised of a global group of private investors, including Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Virgin Group’s Richard Branson, Alibaba CEO Jack Ma, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, the energy coalition aims to support companies in taking innovative clean-energy ideas out of the lab and into the marketplace, therefore accelerating progress on clean energy as it is to make a profit.
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"The renewable technologies we have today, like wind and solar, have made a lot of progress and could be one path to a zero-carbon energy future. But given the scale of the challenge, we need to be exploring many different paths -- and that means we also need to invent new approaches," Gates said in a statement.
For Gates, there are three specific energy solutions that excite him: solar chemical technology, flow batteries and solar paint.
Solar chemical technology
Similar to photosynthesis in plants, solar chemical technology essentially harnesses sunlight to create hydrogen, which can be used as fuel or for commercial purposes.
"Solar chemical would put us on a path to decarbonizing both the electricity and transportation sectors. It would also help a lot with the storage problem, because the world is already very good at storing fuels and moving them around in pipelines, oil tankers, and other infrastructure," Gates wrote on his official blog over the weekend.
The technology is considered one of the “holy-grails” of 21st Century chemistry, according to the National Science Foundation’s Center for Chemical Innovation in Solar Fuels.
With the ability to last longer and hold more energy than a lithium ion battery, Flow batteries could revolutionize how we store electricity. Called “flow” batteries because a charged electrolyte goes back and forth between holding tanks, releasing energy, the technology also has the potential to help store energy created by solar cell and wind power.
According to Business Insider, a team at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences is working on making flow batteries more affordable and environmentally safe.
The biggest differentiator in coming years could be in the form of solar paint, a technologically advanced paint with a light-sensitive dye on top, which could transform walls, car-tops and other surfaces into electricity generators.
"The idea behind solar paint is to make solar power much cheaper and easier to install," Gates writes. "Almost any surface could be transformed into a cheap solar panel."