News about electric cars and plug-in hybrids dominated the news pages this week, as the first-ever Plug-In 2008 conference took place in San Jose, Calif. 

(To check out all the coverage, see Making Plug-In Hybrids a Must Buy, Electric Car Market Could Race for Materials, Prepping for Plug-Ins to Hit the Grid, Will Emissions Testing Stifle Plug-In Hybrids?, Plug-In Hybrid's New Spokesman: Andy Grove, Will Emissions Testing Stifle Plug-In Hybrids?, Move to Greener Cars Accelerates, Utilities Join GM to Promote Plug-In Hybrids, Japan, U.S. Strive to Set Car-Battery Standards, Raser Developing Plug-In Hybrid Pickup and More Plug-In Conversions Go On Sale).

But helping drivers get into a greener ride wasn't the only greentech news this week. Here are a few other interesting items that caught our attention:

Biofuels

The last year has been a tough one for biofuel companies, with hairy market conditions squeezing margins and making it more difficult to finance new plants. Studies questioning the impact of biofuels on the environment and on food prices haven't helped, and earlier this month, a European Parliament panel voted in favor of reducing the European Union biofuels goal from 10 percent of road transport fuel to just 4 percent.

A number of companies, including ethanol producer VeraSun Energy (NYSE:VSE), have had to delay or cancel planned facilities (see Biofuel to More Than Double by 2030, Mascoma to Play Smaller Role in Pilot Project, Plans for Two Cellulosic-Ethanol Plants Scrapped, Another Ethanol Plant Gets Cancelled, Poet Cancels Ethanol Plant, Ethanol Margins Suffer, Ethanol's Tough Times Continue).

But biofuel news this week brought more than just gloom and doom. 

For one thing, VeraSun - which said it would delay the start up of three ethanol plants last month -- on Tuesday announced it would start operating one of the shelved plants, in Hankinson, N.D. The company credited improved margins for its ability to move forward on the 110-million-gallon-per-year factory, which it began building in 2006.

Cellulosic ethanol also is moving forward.

BlueFire Ethanol, a company that plans to turn garbage from homes and business into fuel, said Thursday it had secured a permit to start building its first commercial cellulosic-ethanol plant in Lancaster, Calif. The facility, expected to be up and running in late 2009, will sit next to a landfill and have the capacity to produce 3.1 million gallons of ethanol from garden and wood waste and nonrecyclable paper, BlueFire CEO Arnie Klann told Greentech Media in May (see BlueFire to Break Ground).

And DuPont announced Wednesday it is teaming up with the University of Tennessee to build a 250,000-gallon pilot plant to make ethanol from corn stover, corn cobs and switchgrass. The plant, which will be located in Vonore, Tenn., is slated to start making ethanol in 2009. The university also is working with Mascoma to build the first U.S. switchgrass-based ethanol plant (see Mascoma to Play Smaller Role in Pilot Project).

Concentrating Solar 

The Earth Policy Institute forecasts that concentratingsolar-thermal power will increase more than fourteenfold in the next four years.

According to a report published Tuesday, global installed capacity will reach 6,400 gigawatts in 2012, up from 457 megawatts today.

Concentrating solar-thermal power systems use lenses or mirrors to concentrate the sun's heat before converting it into electricity.

The Earth Policy Institute expects the United States and Spain to lead the charge, installing with a total of more than 5,600 megawatts of new capacity in the next four years.

But the United States could face setbacks. Earlier this month, Spain's Abengoa Solar said would suspend its plans to build a concentrating solar-thermal plant and a mirror-manufacturing plant in the United States if the federal government doesn't extend investment tax credits for eight years (see No Tax Credit, No Solar Power).

Wind

The United States has passed Germany to become the world's biggest wind-energy generator, the American Wind Energy Association said Tuesday.

The association had previously expected this to happen at the end of 2009.

Germany still wears the crown for having the most installed wind-power capacity, but the United States generated more wind power in the first half of this year because of its higher average wind speeds.

The association said it would release more details in the next few weeks.