Will early hydrogen fuel cell investment pay off for South Carolina?

State and local taxpayers have paid $40.7 million in the past five years to establish a University of South Carolina research base in hydrogen fuel cells and create a cottage industry for Columbia and the Midlands.

For that investment, the region has attracted $23.4 million in outside research grants and applied for $35.8 million more. The investment has also generated about 100 jobs and created partnerships with dozens of private fuel cell companies or industries working with the technology.

It also has attracted a fuel cell manufacturing company – Trulite – built a hydrogen fueling station and has a host of demonstration projects, such as the fuel cell driven scoreboard at USC’s new baseball stadium.

USC also boasts the only National Science Foundation Fuel Cell Center in the nation.

And later this month, the National Hydrogen Association will bring more than 1,000 researchers, manufacturers and government officials to Columbia for its annual conference and expo.

Boosters say that's not bad for being in only the fourth year of a 20-year plan to turn the Columbia area into a national center of hydrogen research, part of a statewide push to make hydrogen pay.

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