Sept. 22 (UPI) -- The Army is funding research that could allow drones to run on any type of fuel.
The University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign was recently awarded a four-year, $8 million, the Army said on Tuesday, contract to research multi-fuel chemistry and ignition assistant technologies to increase the reliability of unmanned air and ground vehicles.
The project is one of 11 the Army funded this summer at universities across the country -- including the University of Minnesota, the University of Michigan and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville -- as part of an effort to develop technologies for multi-fuel capable hybrid-electric engines.
"We are thrilled to be taking part in development of new technologies that will be integrated into new UAV propulsion systems in the future for the Army," Prof. Tonghun Lee, of the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, said in a press release.
"Equally important is training the next generation of engineers who can serve our nation in this field of science," Lee said. "This partnership is very exciting. The laboratory set out on a mission to operationalize science for transformational overmatch."
According to the Army, researchers will investigate the ignition chemistry of fuels using machine learning algorithms and develop materials for novel ignition assistant technologies for flexible-fuel drones.
They will also work with Army scientists and researchers to investigate advanced propulsion technologies for high speed air launches.
The laboratory is also investigating other multi-fuel technologies, including a model that would allow vehicle maintenance specialists to switch to bio-derived fuels -- and efforts to convert a home-based generator into a power source for drones.
Research is slated to begin this fall, officials said.