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The Green-Energy Mecca of Emeryville, California

One startup, Amyris, hopes to make fuels and feedstocks that are highly profitable even with $50-a-barrel oil

The drying up of venture capital for alternative-fuel projects ought to have been a death knell for Emeryville, Calif., a square-mile sliver of land near Silicon Valley that until recently advertised itself as a "green corridor" for biofuel businesses. But, while the talk of a biofuel boom to rival the tech boom across the bay now sounds outlandish, this city of 6,800 people so far seems to be weathering the recession and the drop in oil prices that are hurting other parts of the green-tech sector.

Emeryville has a history as a rollicking industrial hub, with meatpacking, steelmaking, and paint companies sharing the streets with brothels and gambling houses. The 1970s marked a low point, but the town was cleaned up and revived by the ensuing technology boom. Today, a single, 24-hour gambling house remains: the Oaks Card Club, situated across the street from Pixar Animation Studios. "The town has completely changed," says John Tibbets, who owns Oaks.