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GE to plow $1 billion into clean tech research

"We have our own clean tech fund here," says GE's vice president of Ecomagination program.

NISKAYUNA, New York--General Electric will spend $1 billion in research and development this year on clean energy technologies, part of its Ecomagination environmental initiative.

The industrial giant announced the investment on Tuesday at its Global Research center here, where it also said that it will put $6.8 million of that into plug-in hybrid vehicles as part of a U.S. Department of Energy project.

The company hosted a day-long presentation at its labs to showcase technology developments in solar electricity, plug-in hybrid components, water desalination, high-efficiency lighting and home energy dashboards, and materials for wind turbines and aviation.

GE will invest about $1.1 billion of research this year, and it is on track of meeting its internal goal of spending $1.5 billion yearly by 2010 on cleaner technologies, said Lorraine Bolsinger, GE's vice president of Ecomagination.

Lorraine Bolsinger, vice president of GE's Ecomagination initiative, presenting at its upstate New York labs. Martin LaMonica/CNET Networks

Investments in clean, or green, technologies have shot up over the past three years. Venture investments in clean tech are now about $3 billion a year.

"While I'm delighted to hear about all the venture capitalists and entrepreneurs (in clean tech), we have our own clean tech fund going on right here," Bolsinger said.

Started two years ago, Ecomagination is a companywide initiative to create cleaner energy and water-related products and services. GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt tapped Bolsinger to lead the program which also covers the corporation's efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It has become a high-profile campaign within the company. Publicly, Ecomagination has garnered the bulk of the company's advertising and marketing dollars.

Financially, Ecomagination is yielding results, Bolsinger said during a presentation. She said that the company's revenue from Ecomagination products is growing at 12 percent a year, faster than the company's overall revenue growth rate of 8 percent. The company is on target to make $20 billion a year by 2010.

"It is starting to get talked about in the (financial) analyst community, and I think it's because they see the 12 percent annual growth rates," Bolsinger said.

GE's industrial divisions manufacture a wide range of energy products, from nuclear power plants to solar electricity and engines for airplanes and trains. GE has a process to certify that Ecomagination products and services are more energy efficient and perform better, Bolsinger said.

She said that energy efficiency in its products, like GE's hybrid locomotive train engine, makes them more cost-effective.

It is likely that regulations will be put in place in the United States and other regions to limit greenhouse gas emissions, which will make the financial decision to purchase cleaner technology products easier, she added.

"We like to think about (carbon emissions reductions) as risk abatement as well as cost reduction," Bolsinger said. "We are in carbon management...Every one of our businesses are impacted to some extent."

Editor's note: Later this week, CNET will be running a photo gallery of some of the energy and water technologies GE is working on at its Niskayuna lab as well as a transcript of an interview with Lorraine Bolsinger about its Ecomagination program.