Bill Gates, United Airlines, Chevron Invest in Biofuel Game-Changer, Viridos – Can This Startup Replace Fossil Fuels?

Viridos is a biofuel startup that wants to take clean energy to another level, and business magnate Bill Gates just became one of its lead investors. 

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Viridos' plan is to create renewable energy through the use of microalgae to create the kind of dense, resource-intensive fuel that powers airplanes and large-scale shipping operations. 

The technology Viridos is developing is important because both the commercial shipping and aviation industries are notorious for high carbon emissions and there is no option for a clean-burning engine that produces enough energy to power an ocean-going frigate or jumbo jet. Considering that by some estimates humanity will need 50% more energy by 2050 than it does today, the need for a clean-burning fuel becomes more pronounced. 

Viridos estimates that if its technology for producing microalgae fuels can be scaled to the point where it's a legitimate, readily available fuel source for commercial aviation and shipping, it could result in a 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Another thing working in Viridos' favor is that there is already some penetration of biofuels such as ethanol and soy biodiesel in the fuel supply. 

But several factors are conspiring to limit the production capacity of these biofuels. Specifically, the fact that the base products for ethanol (corn) and soy biodiesel (soy) are also food staples means that a large share of the crop production for these plants will always be dedicated to maintaining the food supply. That could make it difficult if not impossible to fully replace fossil fuels necessary for commercial shipping and aviation. 

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Viridos has a proprietary process that combines two plentiful resources — sunlight and the carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere — to produce the microalgae they need to convert to fuel. That means it can be produced in large quantities without negatively impacting the world's food supply. Another benefit of the Viridos production method is that it can produce its microalgae in saltwater on farmland that is not highly sought after by traditional food suppliers. 

The Viridos microalgae check what are perhaps the three most important boxes in the sustainability race:

  • Emissions reduction
  • Minimal freshwater requirements
  • Can be produced without using farmland

With all those advantages, it's easy to understand why Gates became a lead investor. Viridos is in the early venture stage of fundraising and has raised $25 million in Series A funding. In addition to Gate's Breakthrough Ventures, both United Airlines and Chevron have become investment partners with Viridos.

Clean Energy Startups

Clean energy startups have been one of the biggest funding areas in the startups realm among both retail investors and venture capital. Breakthrough Energy Ventures collectively invests hundreds of millions every year in several startups looking to reduce global carbon emissions. And startups like Airthium have raised hundreds of thousands from retail investors for its breakthrough engine hoping to replace fossil fuels.

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