Oregon EV companies miss out on DOE funds

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Electric vehicle companies in Oregon won’t all get a crack at a new pot of federal funding available for research and development of advanced vehicles, spurring some on a mission to explain the unique innovations happening in the state to government leaders.

The grants from the U.S. Department of Energy were announced Dec. 16 and total $184 million. They looked, at first, like new opportunity for the budding electric vehicle sector in Oregon.

The grants are intended to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, save money and limit carbon pollution by spurring development of technologies like batteries, lightweight materials and electronics to make electric vehicles and hybrids competitive in the U.S. market. They are also available for work related to combustion, fleet efficiency and fuel technology.

A closer look, however, shows that many Oregon companies are left out of contention for the funds. That’s because the grants are tailored toward lightweight cars made in standard forms but with innovative materials. Many Oregon electric vehicle manufacturers, by contrast, are using traditional materials to build cars, but building them lighter by creating new forms and tweaking aerodynamics.

Local designers explain: A car’s fuel efficiency can depend not just on a vehicle’s weight, but also on the amount of contact it has with the road and its ability to move across surfaces with limited friction.

Oregon manufacturers say their designs can adapt lighter materials in the future, when those materials are more available. But currently most are focused on building models that be built with proven materials in today’s market.

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Lee van der Voo, lvdvoo*at*gmail.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon.

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