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The Year in Energy

• Kevin Bullis via TechnologyReview.com
 

This was supposed to be a big year for energy-related technology.

It was supposed to mark the ascendance of the electric car as the first full year of sales for GM's Volt and Nissan's Leaf, which represent the leading edge of electric vehicles planned by major automakers. But GM fell far short of its sales goals for the year, no doubt plagued by high costs due to expensive batteries. And the company ended the year under a cloud of smoke as the Volt's battery pack caught on fire after safety testing.

It was the year by which advanced-biofuels companies were supposed to be producing 250 million gallons of fuels from grass and wood chips to meet a U.S. federal mandate. But the EPA had to waive the mandate, decreasing the goal to just 6.6 million gallons, because no large advanced-biofuels plants were up and running. The year ended with the demise of one of the first advanced-biofuels companies, Range Fuels, which shut down operations and was forced to auction off assets.
 
By 2011, advanced solar cells based on thin films of the semiconductor copper indium gallium selenide were supposed to be manufactured at high volumes. The cells were to be nearly as efficient as conventional silicon solar cells but much cheaper to produce, making solar power much more affordable. But Solyndra, a Silicon Valley-based company with one of the most innovative CIGS solar-cell designs, collapsed as it struggled to bring down manufacturing costs. Its bankruptcy in September led it to shut its factory in Fremont, California, which had been funded with the help of a $535 million federal loan guarantee. The failure dominated public attention on the subject of alternative energy and prompted congressional investigations.

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