ABB is at it again.

The Swiss equipment giant today said it is buying Baldor Electric Company, one of the biggest manufacturers of electric motors out there for $4.2 billion. New efficiency regulations, among other factors, are expected to push the market for high efficiency motors up 10 percent to 15 percent in North America in 2011. Canada, the EU and other jurisdictions may follow with stringent regulations of their own.

Baldor is one of those large companies you've likely never heard of. It employs 7,000 and had an operating profit of $184 million on revenue of $1.29 billion in the first nine months of the year. Motors have also attracted startups like NovaTorque.

ABB, of course, is one of the four horsemen of the grid, with the three others being General Electric, Siemens and Schneider Electric. All four companies have long histories in the utility and industrial equipment market, and all have been showing marked and increasing interest in acquisitions and partnerships. Earlier this year, ABB inked a deal with General Motors to study how to recycle partially depleted lithium-ion battery packs for cars. It also put money into data center management specialist Power Assure.

Elsewhere:

--General Motors will hire 1,000 engineers in the Michigan area over two years to work on EV technologies. Low costs, strong government policies, lots of engineers and empty factory space for miles and miles give the state a number of advantages when it comes to becoming a green hub. VCs have been circling too.

--General Electric has created an internal group that will look at ways to weave together the lights, appliances and other products the company makes into a cohesive solution for consumers. Dave McCalpin will head up the Home Energy Management Group. No word on whether he also wields control over the television and microwave oven programming division.

--Dan Reicher, who spent the last four years speaking on behalf of Google on energy, will now do the same at a new $7 million interdisciplinary department at Stanford that straddles both the law and business schools. Earlier this year, Ed Lu left Google.

--Soitec and Sumitomo announced that they will collaborate on gallium nitride wafers for semiconductors. GaN is the basis of LEDs and lasers and can be used in power electronics.

--Finally, Liviu Mirica at Washington University in St. Louis has been conducting experiments on exploiting palladium (the element, not the two-drink-minimum dance hall) as a catalyst to convert carbon dioxide into fuel. Right now, converting carbon dioxide into a liquid ends up consuming more energy than it produces. The coal-to-liquids process deployed by the Third Reich -- thankfully -- was hobbled by the same problem.

Palladium reduces the energy required for successive hydrocarbon reactions. In the end, you could make a liquid fuel from methane with a relatively low carbon footprint with this process.  

If it works, start passing out the Nobel prizes.

Tags: abb, electric motors, energy efficiency, gallium, general electric, general motors, palladium