City, USC bustling as big week begins

The cavernous exhibition hall evolved into a sea of blues and greens as exhibitors set up shop for the opening of this week’s National Hydrogen Association conference.

The event, expected to draw 1,000 participants and an additional 2,000 to 4,000 members of the public, will be Columbia’s calling card to the world to show it and USC are key players in hydrogen fuel cell research.

Think of a high school science fair on massive doses of steroids and you’ve got an idea of what’s inside the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, which will be the focal point of the weeklong conference.

About 80 exhibitors spent Monday setting up shop in the cavernous exhibition hall.

“Hydrogen” was the word just about everywhere you looked. Even a hydrogen-powered forklift carried heavy equipment and gear around the exhibition hall.

The largest display is the South Carolina Pavilion, which takes up about 1,500 square feet of space in the center of the 40,000-square-foot exhibition hall.

The pavilion has 20 exhibitors, including the University of South Carolina’s Innovista, which is one of the country’s leading research centers for hydrogen power. Other S.C. participants are Midlands Technical College, the state Energy Office and the state Commerce Department.

Most of the exhibition space is covered in greens and blues promoting hydrogen technology as environmentally friendly.

But one exhibit that’s bound to draw attention featured a candy-apple red 2008 Honda Clarity passenger car. The car, which is sold only in California, is about the size of the automaker’s five-passenger Accord and is powered by an electric-drive engine. It leases for $7,200 a year.

Hydrogen fuel cells provide juice to power the 135-horsepower engine.

The convention center’s hallways are lined with colorful posters trumpeting hydrogen research and technology tacked on display boards.

Some of the poster titles, though, can be a bit mind-boggling. For example, one that drew some attention from convention-goers was titled “Chemical Characterization of Storage Materials, Fuel Cells, and Related Materials by Prompt Gamma-Ray Activation.”

The big day for the public will be Wednesday, when people can tour the exhibits and even ride in a hydrogen-fueled vehicle.

Expo spokesman Greg Hilton predicted a record-setting public day for the association.

Columbia, though, won’t have a high mark to reach. The record attendance for public day is 500, Hilton said.

“We already have 500 students signed up to ride,” Hilton said. “We’re expecting 2,000 to 4,000 people to attend public day.”

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