Fuel cell research gets funding boost

COLUMBIA (WACH) -- Congressman James Clyburn announced Wednesday that USC will receive a $3.6 million federal grant for fuel cell research.

Why not let batteries be the primary driver? says Dr. Brian Benicewicz, one of the three researchers who will help develop the next generation of fuel cells for portable applications.

Columbia is in a global competition, not with Greenville and not with Charleston," says USC President Dr. Harris Pastides, but with cities outside the state.

The work is scheduled to be completed at USC TMs Innovista, where more than $100 million in taxpayer money has already been spent to develop two buildings.

Neil McLean is the executive director of EngenuitySC, an organization that aims to encourage entrepreneurship.

McLean says staff will work to identify fuel cell applications to be used by the Department of Defense.

Fuel cells are like most new technologies, says McLean, they start out in small niches and then they expand to the masses.

Not everyone is as hopeful as McLean is. Don Weaver with the South Carolina Association of Taxpayers is skeptical about the future of fuel cells.

We should be investing in proven industries. If there were really that much of a market for hydrogen technology, we think you would see the private sector stepping up and saying we will make the necessary investments, Weaver says.

According to McLean, companies are buying into the fuel cell market. He adds the Bridgestone Firestone plant in Aiken transports all of its on-site equipment using fuel cell-powered forklifts, and the same goes for BMW in Greer.

Officials hope to keep the pedal to the metal when it comes to fuel cell development with the goal of winning the race for clean energy solutions.