Five grants awarded as part of Fuel Cell Challenge

Taking nothing for granted: USC, the city of Columbia and the S.C. Research Authority announced Wednesday five grants awarded as part of the Greater Columbia Fuel Cell Challenge.

“We’re trying to create a movement,” said University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides. “We want every citizen of Columbia and the Midlands to understand what a fuel cell is, that it is safe and it’s economically advantageous.”

The grants, ranging from $30,000 to $150,000, that are used for demonstration projects that educate the public and to create partnerships, went to:

 Logan Energy and Plug Power for testing of a new micro-combined heat and power fuel cell

 LiftOne, Hyrdrogenics and Air Products & Chemicals for fuel cell forklift technology

 Dantherm Power Inc. to install fuel cell backup power units at three city of Columbia radio communications sites

 NextGenEn Inc., a USC start-up company, for a prototype solid oxide fuel cell

 USC College of Engineering & Computing for development of the fuel-cell powered scoreboard at USC’s new baseball stadium.

Pols digging in: South Carolina’s political leaders were praised Wednesday for supporting hydrogen research.

“The real strength in South Carolina is the ability to engage local politicians,” said Chris Smith of the California Fuel Cell Partnership. “They really dig in.”

Smith noted that most of the state’s congressional delegation addressed expo participants via video-recorded messages, while state and local leaders including S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell and Columbia Mayor Bob Coble have participated in events.

But Gov. Mark Sanford has steered clear. He has backed hydrogen research with small, targeted investments, but opposes spending large amounts of public money. Most politicians back developing hydrogen technology as a way to build the state’s economy and create good-paying jobs.

Hydrogen leak: Do not call it a “science experiment.”

The phrase was unacceptable to Becky King, a graduate student at Ohio University, when she was asked about her thesis demonstration at this week’s National Hydrogen Association Convention and Expo in Columbia.

King is trying to figure out how to create hydrogen from urine. Farmers could collect the urine from livestock and use it to create hydrogen. The hydrogen could power fuel cells, which could produce electricity on the farm.

“It’s so much more than a science experiment,” she said. “We call it the farm of the future.”

Fans of hydrogen: Several researchers have similar setups to demonstrate how hydrogen powers a fuel cell to make electricity.

And all of them power little fans.

“We buy the fans from someone else to show we’re making electricity,” said Becky King, an Ohio University graduate student.

The setup looks like something out of a science fair with clear plastic cylinders, incubators with digital readings and power cords connecting the various parts. The mini-fuel cells are encased in a clear plastic square.

And the scientists are eager to point out the little bubbles seeping up in the square. That means hydrogen is being produced.

Compiled by Jeff Wilkinson, Chuck Crumbo and Noelle Phillips