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Unilever joined biofuel company Solazyme’s fourth round of financing as a strategic investor, Solazyme announced yesterday. The companies already share an R&D agreement: Solazyme’s oils are already used in Unilever’s Lux soap, with the plans to incorporate more renewable oils into its personal care products, such as algal oil, a substitute for palm oil. Solazyme announced last month that they had raised $52 million in fourth-round fundraising, with Chevron Technology Ventures and agribusiness leader Bunge included among its backers. It also drew the backing of Richard Branson.

Frito Lay launched five all-electric  trucks yesterday in New York City, made by Smith Electric Vehicles. The trucks have a range of up to 100 miles on a single charge, and the snack maker has committed to make its considerable fleet (the seventh largest in the nation) “what will ultimately be the largest fleet of commercial electric trucks in North America.” The company said it will add 176 more electric trucks over the next year and a half, 21 of which will hit the roads across the U.S. by year-end.  Smith Electric Vehicles, which specializes in all-electric commercial cars, won a $32 million grant from the Department of Energy earlier this year.

Echelon announced a new open software platform for smart grid applications – and has already bagged its first customer, Duke Energy, which placed a $14.5 million order for its ECN 7000 series of grid hardware . The company’s Echelon Control System platform focuses on intelligent distributed control, which is the process of developing controls and sensing throughout the grid. CNET explains the technology further here. Also notable is that the platform is open – no licensing restrictions to prevent third-party developers to create applications for it. GigaOm observed that Echelon faces competition from industry heavyweights such as Siemens and Cisco, and startups like Current.

The Department of Energy awarded $58.5 million in renewable energy grants this week, with $30 million announced today for state energy efficiency projects. Earlier this week, it gave $16.5 million to biomass R&D, with $12 million going to biofuel development, and allocated $8.5 million for electric grid projects, underscoring the importance of infrastructure in the push to switch the nation over to clean energy.

In other electric car news, Mitsuibishi is planning a revamp of the U.S. version of its Miev after a poor showing in the U.K., which included customer complaints about the car’s performance and reliability, particularly in cold weather. Nissan announced plans to launch its all-electric Leaf in the United Arab Emirates. And Hyundai unveiled its first all-electric car, the BlueOn. The Korean carmaker will put 30 of BlueOns with local government agencies for a pilot program starting in October, and said it will produce 2,500 cars for public purchase by 2012.

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