Turntide Smart Motor System

Bill Gates and Amazon boost Turntide electric motor venture

Bill Gates and Amazon boost Turntide electric motor venture

Turntide’s Smart Motor System relies on switched reluctance motor technology. (Turntide Photo)

Turntide Technologies, a Silicon Valley venture that’s retooling electric motors for the 21st century, says it has completed an $80 million funding round that was led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the clean-tech fund created by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Other investors include the Amazon Climate Pledge Fund, actor Robert Downey Jr.’s Footprint Coalition Ventures, Keyframe Capital, Fifth Wall and Captain Planet LP.

The newly announced round brings Turntide’s total funding to $180 million.

Turntide’s executive chairman and CEO, Ryan Morris, emphasized that the company’s backers are looking for a payoff that goes beyond dollars and cents.

“Our investors recognize the critical role that technology will play in our fight against climate change,” he said today in a news release. “To curb the carbon emissions driving this crisis, we all need to change the way that we use energy. That starts with modernizing the technology that is currently powering our world.”

Turntide’s patented Smart Motor System is built around a type of electric motor known as a switched reluctance motor, or SRM. Such motors work on a principle that’s different from the AC induction approach used for 98% of the electric motors in operation today. There’s only one moving part: a solid steel rotor that turns in a switchable magnetic field.

SRMs have been favored for environments where failure is not an option — for example, in nuclear power plants or mining operations. But they’re typically hard to control precisely, which has left them less suitable for broad commercial use. Turntide’s cloud-based software platform makes SRMs more controllable and allows them to run at much greater efficiency than legacy motors.

“Turntide’s Smart Motor System addresses a huge market with innovation that not only is higher efficiency, but also lower cost,” said Carmichael Roberts, a member of Breakthrough Energy Ventures. “The applications for this type of solution are incredibly broad and impactful.”

Amazon, BMW, Five Guys, Sprouts and JLL are among the companies that have retrofitted their heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems with the Smart Motor System, reducing HVAC motor energy consumption by 64% on average. Turntide also provides HVAC motor systems for Vancouver, Wash.-based Pacific Energy Concepts.

Office buildings aren’t the only places that benefit: Turntide has partnered with VES-Artex to create a control system for lighting, ventilation and cooling in dairy barns.

Turntide says the fresh infusion of capital will be used to expand the development and production of the Smart Motor System to meet growing demand, and extend its use into new applications such as refrigeration and pumping systems. Funding also will be used to boost Riptide IO, a cloud-based building automation software platform that Turntide recently acquired.

In addition to greater efficiency, Turntide’s technology eliminates the need for rare-earth minerals in motor manufacturing.

“There is no question that a high-efficiency electric motor that does not use environmentally destructive rare-earth minerals is needed,” said Sergey Polikarpov, managing partner of Captain Planet LP. “The prophecy of switched reluctance must be fulfilled to preserve the planet.”

Turntide currently has about 260 employees and is continuing to grow. Previous investors include Meson Capital, BMW iVentures, JLL Spark, WIND Ventures and Tony Fadell’s Future Shape.

Under Gates’ leadership, Breakthrough Energy Ventures was publicly launched in 2016 as a billion-dollar fund to support innovations that reduce carbon emissions. BEV’s backers also include Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, the Virgin Group’s Richard Branson, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Michael Bloomberg.

Last month, the fund announced that it’s raised another billion dollars to support 40 to 50 more startups.

Amazon launched the $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund last year to invest in tech innovations that can help the company reach its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. Other companies in the Climate Pledge Fund portfolio include CarbonCure Technologies, Pachama, Redwood Materials, Rivian, ZeroAvia and Infinium.

Downey, who’s best-known for his role as Iron Man in Marvel superhero movies, unveiled the FootPrint Coalition at Amazon’s inaugural re:MARS conference in 2019. The coalition has invested in several other environmentally oriented ventures, including Seattle-based Cloud Paper.

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