High hopes for hydrogen
Lawmakers see hydrogen, alternative fuels as South Carolina’s future
High hopes for hydrogen
Imagine the year is 2009.
You attend a game at the new USC baseball stadium, where both the scoreboard and outfield lights are operated by hydrogen powered fuel cells.
Small fuel cell-powered vehicles run up and down the Three Rivers Greenway carrying maintenance workers and park rangers.
Fuel cell vehicles refuel at a station near the city’s hydroelectric plant, where hydrogen is produced and stored.
An elementary school class field trip to EdVenture includes a stop at the nearby refueling station, where students learn about fuel cells and the hydrogen economy.
Delegates to the National Hydrogen Association meeting at the Greater Columbia Convention Center marvel at the Columbia Fuel Cell District.
The vision for such a district was launched earlier this summer by EngenuitySC at the Greater Columbia Chamber of Commerce’s Intraregional Visit.
Envisioned as roughly two miles in radius, it would be “the first planned end-to-end fuel cell district” and would bring together educational projects; hydrogen production, storage and distribution sites — including refueling facilities — and lots of working fuel cells.
To make that vision a reality, the USC Columbia Fuel Cell Collaborative has issued The Greater Columbia Fuel Cell Challenge for projects to fill up the district. The collaborative is working to position Columbia as a leader in hydrogen fuel cell innovation and technology.
The collaborative — which includes EngenuitySC, USC, the city of Columbia and the S.C. Research Authority — has issued a request for proposals, and letters of intent are due by Thursday, with final proposals to be submitted by Sept. 29.
Initial awards are expected to be announced Oct. 17 at Engenuity06, the annual meeting of the leadership group that is working to transform Columbia’s economy. Contracts with some of the winners are expected to be executed starting in November, with work on the projects to begin soon after.
SCRA is helping administer the project and fund the awards.
Organizers are soliciting proposals in three phases: discovery, development and deployment. Awards range from $10,000, for development of a Citizen’s School that will focus on hydrogen and fuel cell technology, to $200,000 per qualifying business, to support new business formation or growth and expansion of existing businesses.
Awards are also available for multiple projects that demonstrate portable, stationary and transportation-related uses of fuel cells.
A $1 million award is even possible for a researcher or team of researchers that would match the federal $1 million H-Prize, should that program be approved by Congress.
H-Prize legislation, which would reward scientists and engineers who overcome technical barriers for development of a hydrogen economy, was sponsored by U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., and passed the U.S. House earlier this year. Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
The challenge is seen as a way to create “an international showcase” for fuel cell and hydrogen technologies by the time the National Hydrogen Association holds its annual convention in Columbia in the spring of 2009.
“We are calling 2009 ‘Columbia’s Olympics,’ and we are getting ready for the Olympics, says Neil McLean, EngenuitySC executive director.
“We are trying to build so that, in 2009, people will bump into businesses all over town using fuel cells and see a lot of startup businesses as they walk up and down,” says the research authority’s Russ Keller.
Collaborative members say Columbia can become a focal point for the hydrogen economy, spawning new companies and lots of high-tech jobs that pay well.
“I have a vision that when 2009 comes around, we will have a lot of companies here doing work to support the research and development of the university,” says Tony Boccanfuso, who is heading up USC economic development efforts in alternative fuels.
“We will be growing companies organically out of the university and out of the national lab that are located here.”
A study by Price Waterhouse Coopers forecasts that in less than 18 years, hydrogen technologies and related goods and services will exceed $1.7 trillion in worldwide sales.
A concept map shows the district as part of the Innovista — stretching from Gervais Street on the north to Whaley Street on the south and from the Congaree River on the west to Assembly Street on the east.
The district would showcase portable fuel cell applications around USC and the research campus, stationary fuel cells in businesses and university buildings and fuel cells in utility vehicles and shuttle buses.
McLean says the current map is just a concept. “We haven’t totally defined it on purpose. It is downtown. We like the opportunities around the river and Innovista. That is what is on the drawing board.”
While organizers want the district to be focused in that area, they don’t want to leave out opportunities elsewhere in the city.
The military is expected to be one of the early users of fuel cell technology. Keller says test projects have gotten a warm reception at Fort Jackson.
The fuel cell district is the hub, and the spokes are anybody else who wants to put in a fuel cell, such as a business that wants to use one to back up a data center, McLean says.
“It doesn’t make sense to have all the projects downtown,” says McLean, who is working on potential project at Benedict College.
Keller says they want local businesses involved. “We need local business to take on green projects.”
McLean, Boccanfuso, city economic development director Jim Gambrell and Rachel Card of EngenuitySC visited Hydrogen Village in Toronto earlier this summer. There they saw many of the kinds of demonstration projects that Columbia hopes to attract.
The Toronto project has been developed in the last few years as a public-private partnership.
Among projects the group saw were a telecommunications facility that used a fuel cell for backup power; a hydrogen-powered delivery van operated by Purolator Courier Ltd., a hydrogen production, storage and refueling facility in a city park; and hydrogen fuel cell-powered John Deere Gators, — four-wheeled utility vehicles being used to patrol the park.
The city of Columbia is particularly interested in the Gators, Gambrell says.
“Our concept is to emulate that. We are planning to use those same Gators on the Three Rivers Greenway to do maintenance and for rangers to do security.”
The city wants to create the hydrogen from electricity that is generated at the city’s hydroelectric plant on the Columbia Canal, store it on site and have a refueling station nearby.
A refueling station is critical for the National Hydrogen Association convention.
The meeting will bring as many as 40 hydrogen cars to Columbia that will need refueling, McLean says.
“We have some real-world infrastructure needs. This is not all just for show.”
August 2, 2006
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Lawmakers see hydrogen, alternative fuels as South Carolina's future
Sen. Lindsey Graham doesn’t mince words when he talks about America’s energy policy.
“As a nation, we need to become less dependent on foreign oil,” he said at the start of recent conversation with the Charleston Regional Business Journal. “It would simply be irresponsible if 20 years from now we’re just as reliant on Middle Eastern oil to drive our economy as we are today.
“We need to wean ourselves from that drug. And I think South Carolina, with its deep research and automotive communities, is going to be key to making that a reality.”
It’s a vision that Graham, co-chair of the U.S. Senate Hydrogen Caucus, shares with Rep. Bob Inglis, R-Bluffton. That vision is to harness and further hydrogen research already taking place, and then spin it into a significant source of the nation’s energy supply and into an economic development driver for the state’s future.
The centerpiece of this effort is the H-Prize Act of 2006, which provides incentives for hydrogen breakthroughs within the next 10 years. Inglis sponsored the bill in the House, which approved it 416-6 in May, while Graham is co-sponsoring it in the Senate with Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.
The act is intended to provide results-driven financial incentives and prestigious national prizes in order to attract the best and brightest teams of entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers to lead the way to the hydrogen economy.
The H-Prize is a monetary reward to innovators who overcome the technical scientific challenges of moving to a hydrogen economy. Science breakthroughs in storage, production, utilization and distribution will receive $1 million. Up to four awards would be made every other year.
A successful prototype use of hydrogen can expect a $4 million award, and one grand prize would award $10 million in cash and up to $90 million in federal funds to match private capital to be sure this advancement is headed toward commercialization.
Although recipients of the prize could theoretically be located anywhere, Graham believes as a national leader in hydrogen research, Palmetto State institutions will be particularly competitive.
“Look at all that’s going on here,” he said. “The University of South Carolina is developing hydrogen fuel cells, Clemson is working on hydrogen vehicles, Aiken County has established a Hydrogen Research Center and the Savannah River Site is a leading research facility in hydrogen storage and technology. BMW is developing a hydrogen vehicle, and Toyota already has one that Gov. (Mark) Sanford and I have driven.”
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