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USA: Innovators scramble to find funds

Makers of electric vehicle batteries, solar panels and wind turbines have seen a sharp decline in federal government support.

“We’re in new ground now. The president and the previous president wanted to double the science budgets over a 10-year period,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in Detroit in January. “But that’s not realistic anymore.”

It’s not realistic after the politically fraught bankruptcy of Solyndra, a Fremont, Calif., manufacturer of solar panels that received a $535-million federal loan guarantee.

The government’s downshift has devastated many aspiring companies. For example, Bright Automotive, a Rochester Hills start-up, had planned to build the Idea, a hybrid delivery van, until the Department of Energy demanded it raise $345 million in private funding before it would approve a $315-million DOE loan.

Carbon Motors, based in Connersville, Ind., asked for $310 million in financing for a diesel-powered police car. The funding was to come from the Energy Department’s Advanced Vehicle Technology Program, but after months of encouraging meetings, the company suddenly was told last month its application was declined.

“We were completely blindsided,” said William Santana Li, Carbon’s CEO. “We had no issues with their terms. For 30 months the department kept reassuring us everything was fine.”
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