DOE Doles Out Cash for Alternative Vehicle Tech

This isn’t the bailout U.S. automakers are looking for, but it is government money. The same week the Big Three are back on Capitol Hill asking Congress for a big bailout, Ford Motor (s F) and General Motors (s GM) are among a group of companies that have been awarded up to $14.6 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy for research and development in alternative vehicle technologies (hat tip Green Car Congress).

When matching funds from the private sector are included, the projects represent a total investment of up to $29.3 million, according to DOE. In addition to Ford and GM, 3M (s MMM), BASF (s BASFY), FMC (s FMC) and Navistar International (s NAV) are also getting some funding for research projects covering battery materials and manufacturing, thermoelectric systems, and aerodynamic trailers.

In a statement yesterday, DOE said this cash is not part of the recently announced $25 billion government loan program, but is part of the agency’s continuing work to develop high-efficiency vehicle technologies. That loan program is getting its own share of attention, with electric car maker Tesla Motors and powertrain manufacturer AFS Trinity Power announcing plans last month to seek loans under the program.

Under this latest round of funding, Ford and GM are getting cash for the development of solid-state thermoelectric systems that can provide heating, ventilation and air conditioning in vehicles. Ford is getting up to $4.2 million and GM will receive up to $2.3 million, with both companies working on separate 3-year-long projects.

DOE said the use of thermoelectric materials could reduce or eliminate the need for conventional air conditioning refrigerants and enable a distributed system that cools or heats the people in the car rather than the whole cabin and its components.

Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers put some cash into the technology earlier this year, with Massachusetts-based GMZ Energy raising an undisclosed amount of seed financing from Kleiner Perkins in March. GMZ is working on thermoelectric materials for vehicle applications such as cooling and capturing waste heat.

In battery materials and manufacturing, 3M is getting up to $1.4 million from the DOE and BASF will receive up to $2.5 million. FMC will get up to $3 million. The projects will focus on increasing the performance and cutting the cost of batteries for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

Rounding out the funding, up to $1 million will go to Navistar for the development of advanced aerodynamic trailers that can reduce the fuel consumption of heavy-duty tractor trailers, with Navistar’s tractor trailer and tire combo expected to cut fuel use by at least 15 percent.