Small Businesses Leading the Way in Clean Energy Innovation

By Andrea Buffa in Apollo News Service, February 10 2010

Internet giant Google is the poster child for demonstrating that revolutionary technologies can be developed by a small number of people on a limited budget. The company, whose name is now a household word and whose net profits exceeded $6 billion last year, was incorporated in a garage by Stanford Ph.D. students who were doing a dissertation on search engine development.

In the world of clean energy, no one knows yet which companies will be the equivalents of Google, creating the technological breakthroughs that will change the course of U.S. energy history. But the Department of Energy is trying to ensure that at least some companies get a leg up in their efforts to win that coveted title. In November 2009, the DOE awarded 125 grants of up to $150,000 each to more than 100 small businesses that are working to develop new technologies to decrease carbon pollution and increase energy efficiency. “Small businesses are drivers of innovation and are crucial to the development of a competitive clean energy U.S. economy,” said U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu in the DOE’s announcement of the awards.

The funding for the awards, which totaled more than $18 million, was made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The ARRA funding augmented two existing programs called Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) through which federal agencies with large research and development budgets, like the Departments of Energy and Defense and the National Institutes of Health, set aside a small fraction of their funding to go toward competitive grants for small businesses.

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