Cell technology fuels interest at hydrogen conference

Last summer, Wayland Hiott rode in a hydrogen-powered car for the first time during a demonstration at Midlands Technical College.

A few months later, he attended a workshop at USC on hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Today, Hiott and his ninth-grade science students at Gilbert High School will ride a bus to Columbia as the annual National Hydrogen Association conference and expo opens its doors to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“I think it’s important for the students to see real, live applications of what they’re studying,” said Hiott, who will be chaperoning about 40 students.

The 40,000-square-foot hall, which features 80 exhibitors, will be open to the public. People also will get an opportunity to ride in a hydrogen-powered car and cruise around on a Segway, which is a two-wheel, electric-driven personal transporter.

Overall, expo organizers predict 1,800 to 2,000 people will attend the daylong event at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center.

Despite a forecast for rain, the National Hydrogen Association expects to break the previous public day attendance record of about 500, executive vice president Debbi Smith said.

Even though previous expos have been held in larger metro areas like Sacramento, Calif., and San Antonio, Smith thinks this year’s event will have a bigger draw because of community support.

“There’s a lot of interest and activity located right here,” said Smith, citing 50 years of hydrogen research at the Savannah River Site in Aiken.

Hydrogen work also is ongoing at USC’s Innovista research district, she added. “The city and USC have done a really good job of educating the public.”Rain won’t be a problem for public day, said Greg Hilton, an expo spokesman. He said people who want to ride in the cars can wait under the canopy that covers the convention hall entrance, and the Segway demonstrations will be moved inside.

“It’s exciting; there’s new technology, the future of transportation possibly, tremendous educational opportunities and there are a lot of fun exhibits that people can actually get their hands on and play with,” Hilton said.

Smith, who has been in the hydrogen business for 27 years, said the event should be special for the person being exposed to hydrogen technology for the first time.

“I’m envious of the people who are going to be here for public day and experiencing this all for the first time,” Smith said. “I envy them that moment when this all makes sense.”

Reach Crumbo at (803) 771-8503.

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