“There’s not enough money, and so you have to have some innovation,” he said. “The idea that it can be done by brute force, there’s just no chance.”
Companies need investment and technical support to prove their low-carbon ideas beyond the pilot phase – and then to scale up manufacturing, he says. But any Breakthrough Energy profits are funneled back into the group or to the foundation.
Some of the companies under Breakthrough that are developing Direct Air Capture (DAC) – technology designed to pull CO2 straight from the atmosphere – have their sights set on some $3.5 billion in newly announced US contracts to build DAC plants and fund research grants.
“We have a number of Direct Air Capture companies that will bid on being a part of those projects,” he said, noting that the recent Inflation Reduction Act legislation has boosted prospects for climate innovation. He did not elaborate on the DAC companies’ plans.
In manufacturing, the steel and cement industries have made “fantastic” progress, he said, a change from his worries about that sector just two years ago.
Manufacturing is responsible for about a third of global climate-warming emissions.
Now, “there’s no area of climate mitigation that I feel like ‘Oh, that’s really completely uncovered,'” he said.
Instead, with the world set to push past 1.5C of warming, he said the challenge is shifting toward helping people adapt to a harsher, hotter future.
“In addition to mitigation, which will still be the biggest part (of Breakthrough Energy’s investment), we’ll also fund adaptation-related work.” That could include technology to help control forest fires, using coral reef type structures to create barriers to flooding, or development of crop strains that can withstand drought.