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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

A Bill Gates-led venture fund that invests in next-wave climate technologies wants to get bigger.

The big picture: Gates, chair of Breakthrough Energy Ventures, said Monday that the $1 billion fund that began investing in 2017 plans to raise another $1 billion to $1.5 billion late next year.

Why it matters: The billionaire Microsoft co-founder has long argued that deeply decarbonizing economies will require major innovations beyond existing clean technologies.

  • The fund's investments include startups working on fusion, solid-state batteries, carbon-free steel production, sustainable proteins and much more.

What's next: “We have plenty of money to invest through 2020 and the way we do it is, we leave a lot of money aside for follow-on investments in the current companies,” Gates told me and Axios' Amy Harder in an interview Monday.

  • “By the end of 2020 we will want to have more funds to make new investments. So we will start in late 2020 to raise fund two,” he said of BEV after also discussing the fund onstage at The Economic Club of Washington, D.C.
  • The fund includes corporate heavyweights and Silicon Valley VC players on its board, such as Richard Branson and John Doerr.

The intrigue: BEV is exploring hydrogen, which has not lived up to the expectations that advocates had earlier this century. "Hydrogen is very expensive," Gates said.

  • "There’s a ton you can do with cheap hydrogen," Gates said, citing both transportation and clean manufacturing applications.
  • “BEV is looking at companies who have some ideas,” he said, noting at one point, “Is there a way to make hydrogen super cheap? It’s very unknown.”
  • While BEV is eyeing new capital, a spokesperson said they would invest in hydrogen with existing funds "if they find the right opportunity."

The big picture: He's a deep-pocketed and sometimes controversial player in the climate world.

  • BEV is just one avenue, along with big personal investments in companies like Impossible Foods and Carbon Engineering, and his foundation that works to help poor countries address climate.
  • Gates is also a vocal advocate of major increases in federal R&D spending.
  • He's drawn criticism from advocates who say his emphasis on next-generation tech can sap focus from rapidly scaling existing solutions.

Yes, but: Gates said his policy goals, including a carbon tax, encompass innovation and deployment.

  • “We have 30 years left to get to what really needs to be, by the developed countries, net-zero [emissions],” he said.
  • “If the U.S. can’t do a carbon tax right away, at least it could do some things that are in the tens of billions that help with R&D, innovation and scaled deployment.”

Also, Gates is fine with Big Tech oil services

Gates tells Axios he has no problem with large tech players — including Microsoft — offering business lines tailored specifically to oil industry clients.

Why it matters: Those products — such as Amazon's cloud computing services for oil companies and Microsoft's partnership with ExxonMobil — are coming under increasing criticism.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders went on the attack against those two and Google last month, accusing them of "fueling the climate crisis."
  • An open letter from thousands of Amazon employees to CEO Jeff Bezos in April urging tougher steps on climate took aim at their work with the oil industry.

But, but, but: Gates told Axios that he doesn't see a problem with it, arguing that tech players should not be instruments of energy policy, and also said U.S. oil production helps energy security.

  • “I don’t think the tech companies should stop working with oil companies. If there’s a carbon tax, which I think would be a great thing, then fine, then the industry would have to adjust to that,” Gates said, who is on Microsoft's board.

Go deeper: The yin and yang of Big Tech and climate

Go deeper

Pentagon approves request for 100 National Guard troops for "Justice for J6" rally

Security fencing has been reinstalled around the Capitol. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved a request from Capitol Police to provide 100 D.C. National Guard troops in case law enforcement requires additional support at Saturday's "Justice for J6" rally at the Capitol.

Why it matters: Security preparations have ramped up ahead of the pro-Trump demonstration, where hundreds of protesters sympathetic to the Jan. 6 Capitol attack are expected to gather.

Biden threatens new sanctions against Ethiopian officials over Tigray conflict

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

President Biden on Friday signed an executive order allowing the Treasury and State Departments to impose sanctions against Ethiopian officials "responsible for, or complicit in, prolonging the conflict" in the Tigray region.

Driving the news: Hundreds of thousands of people are facing famine conditions in Tigray, but less than 10 percent of the needed humanitarian supplies has reached the region over the last month "due to the obstruction of aid access" by the Ethiopian government, according to Biden administration officials.

Top general: Calls to China were "perfectly within the duties" of job

Gen. Mark Milley. Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley told the Associated Press on Friday that calls with his Chinese counterpart during the final months of Donald Trump's presidency were "perfectly within the duties and responsibilities" of his job.

Why it matters: In his first public comments on the calls that have prompted critics to question whether the general went too far, Milley maintained that such conversations are "routine," per AP.