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Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) -- The Energy Department gave $156 million to 60 projects developing “transformative” clean- energy technologies, as lawmakers fault its $535 million loan guarantee to failed solar-panel maker Solyndra LLC.
The U.S. is in a “Sputnik-like moment in the race to develop clean-energy technologies,” Arun Majumdar, the director of the Energy program that made the grants, said today, referring to the 1957 Soviet satellite that spurred the race won by the U.S. 12 years later when men landed on the moon. “It’s more important than ever to invest in game-changing ideas.”
The research projects are backed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy, modeled after the Pentagon effort that helped develop the Internet. Solyndra’s loan guarantee, awarded two years before it filed for bankruptcy protection, came from a separate program run by the department to promote commercial development of renewable energy.
The U.S. could invest in clean energies and create jobs or “buy products from abroad,” Majumdar told reporters on a conference call today.
Projects being funded include efforts to make transportation fuel from tobacco plants and pine trees, improve the electrical grid and make batteries to store thermal heat.
The Energy agency previously gave about $366 million in grants to companies to develop clean-energy products, Majumdar said. The program was financed by the 2009 economic stimulus. Previous recipients have attracted about $200 million in private investment, Majumdar said.
A Senate spending bill includes adding $250 million to the program, about $300 million less than the department sought. Legislation in the House included $180 million.
“We are in a tough budget climate and there is of course some concern,” Majumdar said. He said he was confident Congress would continue to support the initiative.
--Editors: Steve Geimann, Judy Pasternak
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