Forget Silicon— Now Gordon Moore Funds Clean Energy Breathroughs

As a legendary tech entrepreneur, Gordon Moore coined Moore’s Law, which defined the trend of rapidly accelerating computer technology. Now as a billionaire philanthropist, much of his giving is dedicated to boosting similar rapid advancement, but in clean energy research.

The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation has given hundreds of millions of dollars to Moore’s alma mater California Institute of Technology, and of that funding, a significant chunk has gone to backing the school’s energy and sustainability labs and initiatives.

Since 2006, the Foundation has been launching and/or bankrolling multiple clean energy projects at CalTech, giving the tiny-but-influential school a serious boost in the global push for scientific breakthroughs to fight climate change, to the tune of about $20 million. The Moores are big supporters of research, but also have become heavyweight enviro funders, creating quite a sweet spot for some CalTech departments.

For example the Moore Foundation most recently funded the renovation of the Earle M. Jorgensen Laboratory for energy and sustainability, which reopened in 2012. The formerly “dreary” facility is now a cutting-edge, modernist space that houses two of CalTech’s powerhouse programs—the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis and the Resnick Sustainability Institute.

The Resnick Institute finds itself in familiar hands, considering it was launched in 2009 by a million dollar grant from, you guessed it, the Moore Foundation. It's a unique research center in that it focuses not on developing new forms of renewable energy, but how to capture, store and transmit that energy in a way that can scale up how much of it is actually charging up the world. This challenge, the Institute points out, is a far more difficult problem to take on.

The Moore Foundation has, however, funded a great deal of solar and wind energy research. For example, in 2010, it funded the launch of a CalTech Center for Bio-Inspired Wind Energy, which is developing vertical-axis wind turbines modeled after plants, and wind farm layouts based on the habits of schooling fish.

This kind of entrepreneurial approach to climate solutions is not surprising, considering Moore’s background. As an early innovator in the semiconductor industry and the co-founder of Intel, he’s a titan in the history of computing. And while his foundation gives to a wide range of science, health and conservation efforts, it’s clear the Moores hope to foster similar breatkthroughs in the world’s energy supply.