Aiken: home of hydrogen fuel

If hydrogen is to become a practical replacement for gasoline to power the nation's vehicles, it will probably happen in South Carolina.


Earlier this decade the Department of Energy named the Aiken County-based Savannah River National Laboratory as one of 12 national labs to develop alternative fuels.

The SRNL is focusing on hydrogen fuel and currently has the nation's largest pool of hydrogen scientists and engineers, many of whom work at the nearby Center for Hydrogen Research.

The national lab and hydrogen center are two major components in a statewide "dream team" initiative that includes the University of South Carolina's national fuel cell center, Clemson University's International Center for Automotive Research and the James E. Clyburn transportation center at South Carolina State University.

The combination of government, private industry and universities working together prompted formation of the state's broader Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Alliance that further boosts South Carolina as a research and business leader.

It's ironic a state that has been branded as a sort of backwater in terms of scientific research and economic development might turn out to be where hydrogen storage systems will be developed that could power cars to travel 300 miles or more without a "fill-up." What a bonanza that would be, especially for the Aiken area.

Well, that possibility got another big boost recently when SRNL was chosen to head up a consortium of universities and corporations to develop hydrogen vehicles that lessen dependence on gasoline.

It's been christened the Hydrogen Storage Engineering Center of Excellence and will be based at the Aiken County lab as a "virtual center" that draws on 10 partners from around the nation to collaborate on advance hydrogen research. The center will receive about $6 million from DOE next year to develop and test scale model prototype vehicles.

The combined knowledge of the lab's scientists and experts from the nine other partner groups, predicts lab director Dr. Sam Bhattacharyya, will lead to reasonably priced hydrogen-fueled cars that will reduce or eliminate the need for gasoline.

Is that too good to be true? Maybe, but not if the best minds in hydrogen fuel research have anything to say about it. And what could be more exciting than that the Aiken area would be the hub for this hydrogen-powered miracle.



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