Banking giants HSBC and BMO Financial Group have announced plans to invest a total of US$150mn in Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Catalyst programme, an ambitious public and private sector decarbonisation effort. 

Breakthrough Energy, founded by Gates in 2015, aims to accelerate the development of direct air capture, clean hydrogen, long-duration energy storage and sustainable aviation fuel. 

HSBC announced this week it is joining the organisation’s Catalyst programme, which was launched in June last year and brings together public and private capital to invest in projects supporting those aims. 

The bank will act as an anchor partner, joining its leadership council and investing US$100mn, it says in a statement. Group chief executive Noel Quinn adds the partnership “can help bring these much-needed clean solutions to market and build a more sustainable world”. 

Celine Herweijer, HSBC’s group chief sustainability officer, says: “Brilliant green tech innovations that could transform heavy carbon emitting industries and transform the power sector already exist. They just need investment like this to become reality.” 

BMO Financial Group has announced it is also joining the Catalyst programme, vowing to invest US$50mn over the next five years. Breakthrough Energy says the Canadian lender will act as a scaling partner, sharing experience from its existing project finance and energy transition activities. 

The bank adds that it has been carbon neutral in its own operations since 2010, and is deploying US$300bn in sustainable lending and underwriting to support clients’ transition to a net-zero future. 

“Getting to net zero is going to take a global effort to find and support innovative climate technologies, which can be expensive to adapt and scale,” says Jonathan Hackett, BMO’s head of sustainable finance and co-head of its energy transition group. 

According to Gates, achieving that scale is crucial for boosting widespread adoption of decarbonisation technologies. 

“To reach net zero, we need to reduce the cost of clean technologies so they can be deployed at scale and become more affordable and accessible for all,” he says in a statement issued this week. 

“The only way to achieve this is through deep collaboration across public and private sectors – no country, company, or individual can halt the progress of climate change alone.” 

Catalyst has already issued requests for proposals in the US, European Union and UK, and says it plans to launch projects in other regions later in 2022. 

HSBC has faced criticism from campaign groups, including shareholder activist group Market Forces, over its financing of fossil fuel projects. The group’s UK campaign lead, Adam McGibbon, described its climate policy as “tinkering around in the margins” ahead of its annual general meeting last May. 

The bank has tasked Celine Herweijer with leading its climate innovation agenda, hiring the former PwC global sustainability leader in February 2021, reporting directly to Quinn.