Army, industry and academia converge on UIC for propulsion workshop

MIE Professor Kenneth Brezinsky addresses the audience during the first CUP workshop at UIC.

MIE professors Kenneth Brezinsky and Patrick Lynch welcomed industry, academia, and government agencies to the University of Illinois at Chicago’s (UIC) east campus as it hosted the first Center for UAS Propulsion (CUP) Industry-Academia Connection Days on May 1 and 2.

The event included a high-level program review for the multi-fuel capable hybrid propulsion program at Army Research Laboratory (ARL), which has joint faculty appointees, post-docs, and graduate students at different universities and laboratories in the Midwest supporting this project.

The industry-academia days offer an opportunity for the ARL and other defense research agencies interested in Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) to engage and collaborate with industry and academia and find the path forward to develop the next generation of systems.

“There are several problems with these systems, and a large effort is necessary to develop the next generation systems especially those to meet Army missions,” said Lynch. “Extremely crucially, there is a lack of an industrial base in the United States for the propulsion for these UA systems so the area is ripe for small business innovation.”

During the event, industry leaders presented technical challenges in small gas turbine engines, non-conventional small engines, hybrid-electric applications, and energy storage technologies to enable lighter weight, higher power and energy density, and power and thermal management technologies.

“The workshop provided an opportunity to highlight the role of UIC as a major research institution,” said Brezinsky, who is the director of the High Pressure Shock Tube Lab. “Visits to my laboratory and that of Professor [Patrick] Lynch, showed how active we are in work related to the workshop and how active we are in funded research activities involving students using advanced experimental facilities. In fact, student participation in the workshop was key to making it a success as well as providing the students with opportunities to meet other researchers and potential employers.”

“We have unique facilities which contribute to the project and work very closely with ARL and other university partners on critical projects related to ignition chemistry,” added Lynch, who is the director of the Lynch Laboratory. “Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago is centrally located between all the university partners on the project, and UIC is very interested in growing research programs in this area, and with ARL.”

CUP leads research focused on discovery, innovation, and transition of UAS propulsion technologies to enable unmatched, enduring power for maneuver and mobility. Under the direction of Dr. Mike Kweon, of ARL, and academic lead Professor Tonghun Lee, of the University of Illinois in Urbana, the aim of the center is to address U.S. Army needs for current and future advances in UAS propulsion in the areas of reliability, payload, signatures, and range.

The workshop attracted approximately 150 participants from universities including UIC, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Northwestern, University of North Texas, Texas A&M, MIT, Georgia Tech, and Purdue. Government agencies included ARL, Combat Capabilities Development Command, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Argonne National Lab, Sandia National Lab, and Lawrence Livermore National Lab. Industry partners included Electric Power System, Poly Plus, GE, Honeywell, Bell, DuPont, Honeywell, Cummins and more.

“We envision the Chicago area and the Midwest as the hub for UAS propulsion development,” said Lynch. “ARL is interested in building relationships with UIC, extending their workforce to the Chicagoland and Midwest region through initiatives like ARL central, working together on critical research projects, hosting and sponsoring senior design projects and design competitions.”

More details about CUP can be found at https://cup.illinois.edu.