Bill Gates-Backed Hydrogen Startup Raises $245M in Investments

March 12, 2024 by Mike Falter

Natural hydrogen exploration start-up Koloma, backed by Bill Gates, has secured $245 million in Series B funding to expand operations for discovering and extracting natural hydrogen from subsurface mineral deposits.

Koloma, a start-up developing novel solutions for discovering and extracting natural hydrogen from subsurface mineral deposits, has secured $245 million in Series B funding from investors, including Amazon’s climate fund and the venture capital arm of United Airlines, a U.S. aviation company. 

News of the funding follows $900K in government grants awarded to Koloma Labs, the company’s affiliated research lab at Ohio State University, as part of a $20 million U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) program designed to foster natural hydrogen exploration and production. 

Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy initially helped fund Koloma’s launch in 2021. 


Naturally occurring hydrogen can be harvested from minerals.

Naturally occurring hydrogen can be harvested from minerals. Image used courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey 


With its high energy storage capacity, hydrogen is widely viewed as an alternative to carbon-based fossil fuels. However, affordable access to clean hydrogen, which is not generated from processes reliant on carbon-based fuels, remains a challenge to its broader adoption.


Sourcing Natural Hydrogen

Hydrogen is a portable, high-energy material used to power fuel cells capable of producing electricity with water as the only byproduct. Hydrogen fuel cells can power electric vehicles, generators, factory machinery, and numerous other applications that otherwise would rely on burning fossil fuels as an energy source.

However, producing enough clean hydrogen at an affordable price point has been a barrier to hydrogen’s broader adoption as a fuel source. Generating hydrogen through the electrolysis of water consumes large amounts of energy, and unless this energy is sourced from non-carbon renewables, the hydrogen is not considered clean.


Naturally occurring hydrogen was found underground near a fault line in Australia.

Naturally occurring hydrogen was found underground near a fault line in Australia. Image used courtesy of NASA


Some experts believe naturally occurring hydrogen produced through the earth’s geologic processes could be the answer. Hydrogen gas is produced naturally from geologic mechanisms like radiolysis and serpentinization. In radiolysis, radiation from trace radioactive elements splits water into hydrogen and its other constituents. Serpentinization is a naturally occurring process where water reacts with iron-rich rocks at high temperatures to yield hydrogen gas. 

However, it is unclear how much naturally occurring hydrogen exists or where exactly it can be found. 


Koloma’s Hydrogen Solution

According to Koloma, the company has developed technology to identify, access, and produce geologic hydrogen from the large hydrogen reserves just beneath the earth’s surface.

The company, which is reportedly already searching for hydrogen deposits in the Midwest region of the U.S., will use the funding to expand its natural hydrogen research, development, and exploration operations. 

Natural resource exploration and extraction projects are not cheap. Prior to the most recent round, Koloma had raised $91 million of private capital, bringing total funding for the company to more than $300 million.

Koloma’s investor list includes name-brand firms like Khosla Ventures and Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures, firms with track records for making big bets on transformational and often unproven technologies. 


A model of geologic hydrogen extraction

A model of geologic hydrogen extraction. Image used courtesy of Berkeley Lab (by Mengsu Hu)


According to the DOE award announcement, Koloma Labs will use the grant funding to further develop geochemical and microbial models to understand the processes that form hydrogen in novel rock systems. Research at Koloma Labs has been pivotal to Koloma’s larger commercial operations to identify potential natural hydrogen reserves and apply oil and gas techniques for its extraction.


DOE  Subsurface Hydrogen Program

Koloma Labs was one of sixteen teams to receive funding under the DOE’s $20 million grant program for the exploration of geologic hydrogen. The program represents the first time the U.S. government has awarded grant funding on a competitive basis for this type of hydrogen discovery technology.

The grant program, administered through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, covers two exploratory topics. Topic G focuses on producing geologic hydrogen through stimulated mineralogical processes, while Topic H covers subsurface engineering for hydrogen reservoir management.

Teams from the Colorado School of Mines, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Los Alamos National Laboratory have also received awards for the program.