Developing a “SuperTruck” that can demonstrate a 50% improvement in overall freight efficiency (as measured in ton-miles per gallon) is the number one Area of Interest in the federal funding opportunity recently announced by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

Dubbed the “Recovery Act—Systems Level Technology Development, Integration, and Demonstration for Efficient Class 8 Trucks (SuperTruck) and Advanced Technology Powertrains for Light-duty Vehicles (ATP-LD),” the grant makes a total of up to $240 million available to push past incremental vehicle improvements and significantly change freight and passenger transportation.

The Dept. of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, which is administering the grant, intends to provide matching funds in the range of $45,000 to $95,000 for some 11 projects, each anticipated to last three to five years. SuperTruck project teams are expected to include truck OEMs, engine manufacturers and other suppliers.

The expectations for the SuperTruck are as large as the funding level. According to the official synopsis, at least 20% of the improvement will be through the development of an engine capable of achieving 50% Brake Thermal Efficiency (BTE), but other technologies may include reductions in aerodynamic drag, vehicle mass and rolling resistance, as well as hybrid drivetrains and engine idle reductions.

The second Area of Interest in the new grant program is similarly ambitious: to advance the development of efficient engine and powertrain systems for passenger vehicles that will result in fuel economy improvements of at least 25% as compared to 2009 gasoline-powered reference vehicles and at least a 40% improvement in the fuel efficiency of diesel vehicles.

The current deadline for applications is September 30, 2009. The complete funding opportunity announcement (DE-FOA-0000079) is available online.