Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Encouraging signs in state�s effort on hydrogen power

The State | 10/12/2005 | Encouraging signs in state�s effort on hydrogen power

RECENT EVENTS IN South Carolina’s exploration of building an economic nucleus around hydrogen as a power source show that the state is forging ahead on several fronts — despite one setback.

Those involved hope that the setback is a temporary one. The Savannah River Site was passed over as one of two locations for new nuclear power reactors, the first to be built in two decades. A small research reactor alongside the power plant would have offered a place to try to generate hydrogen cleanly in the proper form to power fuel cells — a way to break the cycle of fossil fuel use that the world now is locked into. But those involved in the project, including Rep. Gresham Barrett, believe SRS still offers a likely early site for nuclear plant construction, even if it won’t be among the first two sites. Given the nation’s concerns over energy supplies and global warming, it’s time for America to invest more in nuclear power. An SRS plant could also help the state’s hydrogen efforts.

So much for the setback. On to the good news. Last week, South Carolina learned of another major corporation taking an interest in the state’s potential: General Motors. The largest U.S. automaker is investing in the research being done at the Savannah River National Laboratory on storing hydrogen for use in fuel cells. That interests GM for the same reason it does another recent investor, Toyota. Unlocking how to store hydrogen safely and conveniently is one barrier that must be breached before hydrogen can begin to supplant petroleum products in powering the world’s vehicles. “This is another sign the hydrogen initiative in South Carolina is gathering momentum and attention worldwide,” said U.S. Rep. Bob Inglis.

Not all that momentum is coming from big corporations. If South Carolina’s hydrogen effort is to thrive, homegrown start-up companies must take the ideas developed by the state’s research hubs and try to bring them to the marketplace. So it’s encouraging to see several local start-ups launch hydrogen projects. The efforts cover everything from ways to store hydrogen to software for testing fuel cells. These projects are the beginnings of an effort to turn the state’s hydrogen research knowledge into an economic force. South Carolinians should hope to see many more steps in that direction in the months to come.

South Carolina needs more such efforts, big and small, to turn ideas into commercial ventures. Two independent studies of the state’s hydrogen potential noted our research strengths, but said there’s little activity yet in bringing findings to the market. Other states, with corporate headquarters located in them and more government cash to lavish on projects, could get the economic benefits that hydrogen is likely to offer, unless South Carolina can push more of its ideas into the marketplace. Recent efforts are encouraging, but there’s much more to do.


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