The secret’s out. The CIA is interested in what’s happening at Nextreme Thermal Solutions.

While specific financial details weren’t released, In-Q-Tel, the not-for-profit venture group that is funded by the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. intelligence community, has made an equity investment in Nextreme, a spin-off from Research Triangle Institute.

The deal has Nextreme Thermal executives smiling.

“We are very excited about getting In-Q-Tel as an investor. This is very significant for the company,” Rick Scott, Nextreme’s chief financial officer, told WRAL Local Tech Wire. “It’s further validation of our technology, and they are a great business partner to have.”

In-Q-Tel agreed to do more than take an undisclosed stake in the company, too.

“It’s really a two-part transaction,” Scott said. “There was an equity investment as well as providing the company with some development work (funding).”

The funding is the first for Nextreme since it closed on $8 million in December of 2004. The Aurora Funds, which is based in RTP, and RTI were among the investors. Nextreme launched as a separate company in January 2005.

Nextreme kept the round open so the In-Q-Tel investment is considered part of the A round, Scott explained.

Nextreme is at the cutting edge of developing thermoelectric components designed to manage heat in semiconductors and other electronics. Its so-called “thin-film superlattice” technology can also turn heat into electricity.

“Nextreme’s innovative thermoelectric technology fits well with In-Q-Tel’s mission to stimulate new technologies being developed by America’s leading entrepreneurs,” said William Johnson, a principal at In-Q-Tel, in a statement. “We invested in Nextreme because its advances in the field of thermal management promise significant impact in a wide variety of both commercial and intelligence-related markets.”

Nextreme, which employs 30 people, could add some additional positions with the new funding, Scott said.

Scott called the deal a “two-way proposition” since both firms expressed an interest in working with each other.

“They see applications in the thin-film material that we are working with that could be of interest to their investors,” which are other government agencies, Scott explained. “We develop and manufacture devices using our thin-film technology, the primary applications being for hot-spot cooling for the semi-conductor industry and uses in power generation. Heat is such a problem with semi-conductors.

“Our devices can convert heat into electricity,” he added, “so there could be applications in the automotive industry. Vehicles produce a lot of heat from exhaust or the engine block itself. We could conceivably capture that heart, turn it into energy and run that to a battery. We could make automobiles more efficient.”

Working with government agencies is nothing new for Nextreme. RTI scientists worked with the Department of Defense, the Office of Naval Research and the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency since 1993.

In-Q-Tel was created in 1999 and since then has invested in nearly 90 companies.