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Where GE is putting its latest $10B investment

Posting in Technology

GE announced it will invest another $10 billion into its green energy R&D program with an aim of boosting the output of its wind turbines (while cutting costs), increasing power plant efficiency and perhaps, most notably, coming up with a better, greener way of getting natural gas out of the ground through hydraulic fracturing. 

The investment falls under GE's Ecoimagination program, a cross-company business initiative that has already used $12 billion since 2005 to develop technology that saves money and reduces the environmental impact of its own operations as well as its customers. That investment has paid off. A whole line of Ecoimagination products—which have generated $160 billion in revenue since the program began—has emerged from the R&D program.

This additional $10 billion will push the Ecoimagination investment total to $25 billion by 2020, according to GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt. 

This latest $10 billion investment will be used to advance research in three areas: natural, renewable energy and power plants. On the natural gas front—an area that many environmentalists would argue is not a "green" energy source—GE will work on developing alternative technologies to replace water in the hydraulic fracturing process. 

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking, is a technique drillers use to reach vast tracts of previously untouchable gas trapped in shale. Environmental concerns posed by fracking—like the release of methane and groundwater contamination—have escalated with the advent of the natural gas boom in the U.S.

The huge amount of water used in fracking has become a particularly touchy subject in drought-ridden areas where some 55 percent of the wells fracked since 2011 are located, according to study released in February by Ceres. The study found 97 billion gallons of water were used to frack more than 39,000 oil and shale gas wells between January 2011 and May 2013. 

GE said it will work with Statoil to evaluate whether CO2 can be economically used as an alternative to water. It's possible to use CO2 to fracture shale rock formations, but it's expensive, particularly in large-scale operations. The two companies plan to look into whether a system can be designed to capture CO2 produced from emissions, reuse the CO2 to fracture rock formations and then capture it again to use on the next well. 

Thumbnail photo: GE's trailer-mounted gas turbine delivers on-site power using field gas at a well site in Alberta.

— By on February 25, 2014, 8:38 AM PST

Kirsten Korosec

Contributing Editor

Kirsten Korosec has written for Technology Review, Marketing News, The Hill, BNET and Bloomberg News. She holds a degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She is based in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure