Gates, Bezos, Ma invest in A.I. mining unicorn

KoBold Metals, a Berkeley-based mining company that uses artificial intelligence to mine for rare earth elements, has closed out a funding round that crowns it an A.I. “unicorn” worth $1 billion and ropes in some of the biggest investors in the world.

The $200 million round, reported in the Wall Street Journal, included money from Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a Bill Gates–backed venture capital firm that invests in clean energy companies on behalf of people including Jeff Bezos and Jack Ma.

Other investors included the massively influential VC firm Andreessen Horowitz and Bond Capital, cofounded by Mary Meeker, a longtime VC known for spotting big-picture trends early and whose annual Internet Trends Report is one of the most highly anticipated among tech investors.

The raise brings KoBold’s valuation to more than $1 billion. The company’s last funding round raised $192.5 million in February 2022. Breakthrough Energy Ventures and Bond were both part of that earlier round.

KoBold, founded in 2018, uses machine learning to look for deposits of metals that are crucial to the construction of batteries for electric vehicles—specifically lithium, nickel, cobalt, and copper.

The company has more than 60 projects across three continents, in which it is currently investing $100 million annually. It also has an extensive research and development budget devoted to A.I.’s use in modeling the earth’s subsurface and exploring depths beyond the reach of conventional techniques.

“Our proprietary A.I. tools build on a concept we call efficacy of information (EOI), enabl[ing] KoBold to determine which data to collect at each exploration step, to maximize uncertainty reduction,” the company said on its website.

It might take longer to reach the metals, but the drilling will be precision-focused, the company says. The recent purchase of a copper deposit in Zambia, for example, is expected to take eight years to yield results.

Demand for lithium, nickel, cobalt, and copper is on the rise. By 2050, KoBold predicts, there will be a $12 trillion gap between supply and demand.


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