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Silicon Valley biofuel company gets $2.5m grant

A Silicon Valley company is getting a $2.5 million federal grant to develop a pilot-scale “biorefinery” that will make jet fuel out of switchgrass.

The Energy Department announced the grant to Cobalt Technologies of Mountain View as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to find and use alternative fuels to lower costs and improve performance.

“Advanced biofuels are an important part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above strategy to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, improve our energy security and protect our air and water,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a news release. “The innovative biorefinery projects announced today mark an important step toward producing fuels for our American military and the civil aviation industry from renewable resources found right here in the United States.”

Domestic oil and gas production has increased each year the President has been in office, the Energy Department notes, but at the same time the administration is seeking other ways to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. According to the Energy Department’s Billion Ton Study, advanced biofuels could replace about one-third of the nation’s current transportation petroleum use.

The grant to Cobalt is part of an $18 million investment in four projects across the country in which pilot-scale biorefinery projects will use various non-food biomass feedstocks, waste-based materials, and algae to produce biofuels that meet military specifications for jet fuel and diesel. Recipients must contribute at least 50 percent matching funds for these projects.

Partnered with the Naval Air Warfare China Lake Weapons Division, Show Me Energy Cooperative and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Cobalt intends to build a pilot-scale facility to purify and convert butanol made from switchgrass into jet fuel. The company will both evaluate the process’ efficiency and its greenhouse-gas emissions.

15

Berkeley’s Steven Chu resigning from cabinet

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu has announced he’ll resign from President Barack Obama’s cabinet as soon as a successor is confirmed.

Chu, 64, is a Bay Area local: a former director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and a University of California, Berkeley professor of physics and molecular and cellular biology. Earlier, he taught at Stanford.

“Serving as Secretary of Energy during such a momentous and important time has been incredibly demanding but enormously rewarding,” he wrote in a letter to department employees today. “While I will always remain dedicated to the missions of the Department, I informed the President of my decision a few days after the election that Jean and I were eager to return to California. I would like to return to an academic life of teaching and research, but will still work to advance the missions that we have been working on together for the last four years.”

From President Obama:

“I want to thank Secretary Chu for his dedicated service on behalf of the American people. As a Nobel Prize winning scientist, Steve brought to the Energy Department a unique understanding of both the urgent challenge presented by climate change and the tremendous opportunity that clean energy represents for our economy. And during his time as Secretary, Steve helped my Administration move America towards real energy independence. Over the past four years, we have doubled the use of renewable energy, dramatically reduced our dependence on foreign oil, and put our country on a path to win the global race for clean energy jobs. Thanks to Steve, we also expanded support for our brightest engineers and entrepreneurs as they pursue groundbreaking innovations that could transform our energy future. I am grateful that Steve agreed to join in my Cabinet and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

From U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.:

“Secretary Chu is a brilliant man who understands the importance of addressing the threat posed by climate change and has helped put America on a path toward energy independence and a clean energy future.”

0

Two area Democrats OKed ‘No More Solyndras’ bill

Two Northern California House Democrats sided with House Republicans last week to pass a bill called the “No More Solyndras Act” to phase out the clean energy loan-guarantee program that bankrolled the now-defunct Fremont solar manufacturer.

Reps. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, and Rep. John Garamendi, D-Fairfield, were among the 22 Democrats who joined with 223 House Republicans to vote in favor of H.R. 6213; they were the only California Democrats to do so. On the other side, 157 Democrats and four Republicans opposed the bill, which now is before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, praised the bill as ensuring “that taxpayers are no longer left holding the bag for the administration’s reckless investments. … The Obama administration may still regard the loan program that brought us Solyndra as an ‘enormous success,’ but the American people know better.”

Both McNerney and Garamendi are locked in tough re-election battles: McNerney, with Lodi Republican Ricky Gill; and Garamendi, with Colusa County Supervisor Kim Vann, also a Republican. Also, both voted for President Barack Obama’s economic-stimulus package, which funded the loan-guarantee program among many other things; the program itself began during President George W. Bush’s administration.

“This program, like all government programs, needs to be reviewed and modified to address problems,” Garamendi said in a statement issued by a spokesman Friday. “I will continue my work to strengthen energy independence, create clean energy jobs, and Make It In America.”

McNerney last year had defended the loan-guarantee program.

“Solyndra certainly needs to be accounted for,” he had said in an interview. “But in order to develop new sources of energy we need to do research and development, and a well-supervised loan guarantee is one way to achieve that. I think there is a need for loan guarantees, especially considering what’s happening overseas.

McNerney had said it’s “not a good argument to say that the failure of one company is an indication that the whole industry has a problem. Moreover, oil, gas and coal companies have had government subsidies for 100 years or so, so I think it’s reasonable that renewable resources companies can look to the government for help both in research and in incentives.”

McNerney spokeswoman Lauren Smith on Saturday noted McNerney’s use of the phrase “well-supervised,” and said he made no endorsement of a program that lacks proper oversight and management.

“Congressman McNerney has always taken pride in being an independent voice and representing the people in our community,” she said. “With the people in Contra Costa and San Joaquin Counties struggling in today’s economy, he felt compelled to vote for H.R. 6213 to ensure that their hard-earned tax dollars are spent in a responsible way with proper oversight and accountability. He understands what it’s like to be out of work and worried about money – and how every last dollar matters to most families in our region.”

As the Associated Press reported, Republicans have noted that three of the first five companies to get loan guarantees under the stimulus, including Solyndra, have gone bankrupt. But Democrats say Republicans are ignoring the Energy Department’s successes, including saving nearly 300 million gallons of gasoline a year by supporting such projects as one of the world’s largest wind farms in Oregon, a large solar generation project in California and a major photovoltaic solar power plant in Arizona.

Gill’s campaign is making hay of McNerney’s vote, noting McNerney had called green energy his “signature issue” during his initial run for the House in 2006.

“It turns out his signature was written in disappearing ink,” said Gill campaign consultant Kevin Spillane, accusing McNerney of “suddenly running away from the issue that defined his candidacy and his entire record in Congress — the advocacy of green energy, its supposedly endless economic potential, and the need for costly government incentives to promote its development.”

“Seems like McNerney’s true ‘signature issue’ is saving his political career,” Spillane said.

Smith replied this is “a blatant political attack… There is no credibility there.”

0

Senate confirms Piedmont judge to federal bench

The U.S. Senate voted 89-6 this morning to confirm Alameda County Superior Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers as Northern California’s first Latina U.S. District Judge.

Yvonne Gonzalez RogersPresident Barack Obama had nominated Rogers, 46, of Piedmont in May and the Senate Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing in July, at which U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., had praised her as an “intelligent, balanced, reasonable” attorney; lauded her “extraordinary record” of community service; and described her as “an outstanding Superior Court judge, handling substantial criminal and civil caseloads” who would “be a fine addition to the federal bench.”

Rogers has served as a state judge since her July 2008 appointment by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. She also served as a pro tem judge from 2007 to 2008 and a member of the civil grand jury from 2005 to 2007, serving as forewoman from 2006 to 2007.

Earlier, she was in private practice at the law firm of Cooley Godward LLP in San Francisco from 1991 to 2003, where she was an equity partner from 1999 to 2001. She earned her bachelor’s degree with honors in 1987 from Princeton University and her law degree in 1991 from the University of Texas School of Law. The San Antonio, Texas native is registered to vote as a Democrat.

Her husband, Matt Rogers, served on Obama’s transition team when he was elected and later was a senior adviser to U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu where he helped manage more than $36 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act economic stimulus funds, including the loan guarantee to now-bankrupt solar manufacturer Solyndra of Fremont; he left the Obama administration in September 2010. The couple has three children.

She is expected to receive her commission shortly and will fill a judgeship
vacant since Feb. 28, when Chief District Judge Vaughn R. Walker retired. Federal trial court judges earn an annual salary of $174,000 — a pay cut from her superior court judge’s salary of $178,789.

1

Biden: DOE money seeded Bay Area investments

Five institutions that got Energy Department seed money in 2009-2010 – including two in the Bay Area – since have attracted more than $100 million in outside private capital investment, Vice President Joe Biden said today.

The money came from the Energy Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

“America is at its best when we innovate – and ARPA-E supports the very best of American innovation,” said Biden, who spoke today at the National Clean Energy Summit 4.0 in Las Vegas.

“These five companies are swinging for the fences, pioneering new technologies that could help answer the energy challenge and create jobs,” he said. “They illustrate how a small but strategic investment by the federal government can pay big dividends down the road and bring into the market groundbreaking new technologies.”

Primus Power of Hayward received $2 million in ARPA-E seed funding in July 2010, and in May 2011 raised $11M in a round of financing. DBL Investors and I2BF Global Ventures joined existing investors Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. It’s developing a “flow battery” using high energy fluids pumped throughout the unit, capable of storing renewable energy such as wind and solar power and then releasing that energy into the grid during peak load times.

Stanford University received $1.5 million in ARPA-E seed funding million and since has secured $25 million in private investments to support Professor Fritz Prinz’s work on commercializing a new type of energy storage device that will perform many of the same jobs as a normal battery, but deliver greater energy and power and withstand thousands of charges without showing a significant drop in performance.

ARPA-E will be making its next round of awards in September, including some to projects to keep America’s manufacturers competitive by reducing the need for expensive “rare earth” materials from China. Rare earths are naturally-occurring minerals with unique magnetic properties, used for modern necessities such as laptops and lasers as well as in clean-energy technologies such as electric vehicles and wind turbines. Up to $30 million will be made available for this area, in addition to funding for projects in advanced biofuels, thermal storage, grid control technologies and solar power.

0

Bay Area mayors discuss stimulus, green jobs

More than a dozen California mayors, including several from the Bay Area, are meeting in San Francisco today to talk about how California cities are using federal economic stimulus money to make local communities more energy efficient and to create more green jobs.

Most interesting among them seems to be San Ramon Mayor Abram Wilson, a Republican who’s again running against Democrat Joan Buchanan (now the incumbent) in the 15th Assembly District. Wilson – though he spoke at TEA Party rallies last year and this year – has been trying to stake out ground as a moderate, and his attendance at an event such as this seems significant in that context.

Today’s event, hosted by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, was chaired by Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster (a Democrat), joined by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (also the Democratic nominee for state Attorney General). Cathy Zoi, U.S. Department of Energy’s Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy was there as well.

First funded under last year’s stimulus package and administered by the Energy Department, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program is meant to help mayors in reducing city energy use and climate emissions. It allocates $2.8 billion directly to cities and counties to improve energy efficiency and spur economic growth in the green sector, providing direct formula funding to 215 cities and 13 counties in California.

“The EECBG program is allowing us to improve energy efficiency in almost 150 buildings serving San Francisco’s diverse neighborhoods,” Newsom said at a press availability today. “More importantly, these energy efficiency projects create and sustain green jobs, save people money on their utility bills, and cut the City’s carbon emissions by more than 3,000 tons a year.”

The U.S. Conference of Mayors will be lobbying Congress this fall with a push to continue the program as means of green job creation in cities and metro areas where jobs are needed most.

Other Bay Area officials listed as being at today’s meeting included Alameda Mayor Beverly Johnson, Cupertino Mayor Kris Wang, Pacifica Mayor Sue Digre, San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos and South San Francisco Councilman Pedro Gonzalez. The former four are Democrats, while Gonzalez is a Republican.