Biofuels 3M has teamed up with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Desertec on solar energy projects

Published on May 14th, 2010 | by Tina Casey


The Post-it People are Partnering on Solar Power with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory

May 14th, 2010 by  

3M has teamed up with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Desertec on solar energy projects3M, the company behind Post-it among many other products, has teamed up with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to rev up the development of its low cost thin film solar energy and concentrating solar energy technologies. The $7.33 million partnership, which also includes biofuels technology development, is the second big renewable energy announcement by 3M this week.


The company has also announced that will contribute its high efficiency ceramic-fiber and aluminum cables to the ambitious Desertec solar energy project, which envisions a network of solar power plants in Africa supplying renewable energy to Europe.  On top of that, 3M execs had some nice things to say about the importance of having a federal government platform to help take the company’s technology to market sooner rather than later.  Hey, does that mean corporate giant 3M is for – gasp – socialism?

3M and the U.S. Government

Mike Roman, the VP of the 3M Renewable Energy Division, has made it clear that U.S. government resources will play a big role in getting the company’s new solar technology out of the lab and into consumers’ hands.  In a recent press release Rogers stated, “3M is excited for the opportunity to tap into NREL’s expertise and understanding of a variety of solar modules…Also, NREL has pilot plant capabilities, which allow valuable application testing…”  The part about the pilot plant is the money quote.  Basically it means that private companies can share a collective, taxpayer funded resource to get beneficial technology into the market more quickly and efficiently.  The 3M partnership is not unique, by the way.  EPA has just started a renewable energy partnership with Tulane University, which provides for developing floating test facilities that companies can use to test and develop new turbines for hydrokinetic energy.

Green Jobs and – Gasp! – Socialism

NREL has also partnered with another global industry leader from the midwestern Rust Belt, Alcoa.  The federal lab is hosting a test of Alcoa’s new concentrating solar power technology based on low cost sheet aluminum (it’s Alcoa, after all). The company’s focus on affordability has the potential to generate new green jobs by leveraging the Rust Belt’s existing infrastructure to help bring costs down.  Another example of the federal government-business-green jobs connection is Stirling Energy, which has been testing its SunCatcher concentrating solar technology at Sandia National Laboratories in partnership with NREL.  The company specifically designed its units to take advantage of existing expertise in the U.S. automotive industry, in order to create a more affordable product and bring more green jobs to the Rust Belt to boot.  Errr…remind me, what is socialism?

Image: 3M Post-Its by Viernest on

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • I also agree that the candidate’s declared position, and most importantly their legislative record, should be carefully examined far more closely than their broader political allegiance. In addition, I believe voters need to take a very careful look at who’s funding each campaign.

    As a long time business owner and employer, I think all the discussion in the media about “socialism” is way off the mark – especially when you consider beautifully run and staffed and vital government entities in our society like municipal fire departments (which aren’t intended or expected to turn a profit or run like businesses).

    Likewise consider the 35,000 post offices that provide universal service to every citizen no matter how remote (for as little as 44 cents!). The US Postal Service has more locations than Starbucks, Wal-Mart and McDonalds combined, and it manages 596,000 employees all delivering half a billion articles every day, six days a week.

    Are these all bastions of socialism? What about the military – is that a socialist entity? What about libraries and streetlights? Or congress itself, whose members receive lifelong pensions, and free and excellent healthcare for their whole lives for themselves and their families – all at taxpayer expense?

    The danger isn’t that too much of the our treasury will be used by our government to develop massive alternative energy projects, or even to sustain the minimalist livelihood of people on the lower margins of society.

    The 12.8 trillion tax dollars spent, lent or committed by treasury officials to corporate coffers that were “too big to fail” is the real danger.

    In November 2008, first estimated the TARP funding, loans and guarantees at $7.4 trillion, and the new administration has increased that by 73% as of the end of March of last year. Anyone looking at the funding sources behind both the Republican and Democrat parties should have seen that coming.

    Wall Street Watch reported that according to a 231-page report issued March 4th 2009 by Essential Information and the Consumer Education Foundation, “the financial sector invested more than $5 billion in political influence purchasing in Washington over the past decade, with as many as 3,000 lobbyists winning deregulation and other policy decisions that led directly to the current financial collapse.”

    Read more here:

    Entrenched fossil energy interests are no slouches when it comes to political donations, either – and as a result of biases toward existing revenue streams, they’re likely waiting until what they have convinced themselves is the last possible moment to begin to change. This will perhaps be far too late, as they could listen hardest to the advisors who favor the latest action.

    So, for these reasons, it seems likely that humanity and the planet cannot wait for “market forces” to drive events toward a sustainable future, and the legalization of bribery as free speech can only serve the entrenched interests that stand in the way of progress.

    We’ve looked and hoped for a far reaching and forward thinking energy policy in America since Jimmie Carter warned us all that we needed one over three decades ago. Perhaps needed changes are just on the horizon, but ExxonMobil’s tens of billions of dollars in profit are – now more than ever – free to buy our leadership.

    If you have interest in seeing more on the purchase of political power:

    This is where campaign finance reform meets sustainable energy, and where corporations (“fictitious persons” in American law) can’t be allowed to claim the rights of human beings. Until elections depend solely upon a contest of ideas and achievements instead of a contest of cold cash, I can’t harbor great expectations for rapid change.

    I am, however, very optimistic about the technical possibilities, and every step toward sustainability means a better future – we just need to walk a lot quicker and smarter in that direction.

    Craig Shields, Editor,

  • Jesse S

    So my tax money is being used to support rich capitalists at Stirling, Alcoa and 3M? Sounds like corporate welfare to me. Eventually perhaps the government can create a collective of all types of research and production to be even more efficient at delivering the peoples favored positions.

    • Tina Casey

      Agreed. Nobody likes giving money away to people who don’t need it and not getting anything in return. Our taxes should build bridges and highways, put out forest fires, buy equipment for police, fire, and military use, fund research projects that benefit the general welfare, and so on and so forth. We taxpayers should expect a good return on our investment. Right now some of my tax dollars are also going to help more people get their unemployment checks and feed their families. Out of taxpayer funded clean energy projects I expect factories that creates a lot of jobs in the U.S. and help some of these folks get back to collecting a paycheck. If it also brings me closer to the day when I can buy an affordable electric car so I’m not polluting my own air every time I go to work, so much the better. Actually right now it’s not all that much better because I live in a state that gets half of its electricity from coal fired power plants, so I expect the 3M, Alcoa and other taxpayer funded solar power projects to enable me to ditch the coal and charge my electric car with clean, affordable solar power – and sooner rather than later.

  • LouG

    Pettiness over which governmental actions are on the left or right will splinter a growing green movement. There are many people “on the right” who favor green activities. Greens should be for the environment and not a particular political view. LouG

    • Tina Casey

      Agreed. Any voter with interests and goals relating to environmental issues should be aware of their candidate’s positions and legislative record before pulling the lever. Favoring “green activities” is good as far as that goes but having a legislative representative who puts your favored positions into action is the key.

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