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USC Partners with Fraunhofer on Fuel Cells

The University of South Carolina and Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems are establishing a research partnership that will encompass fuel cells, hydrogen storage, hydrogen production, chemical-energy conversion and other electrochemical storage devices.

This announcement comes just three weeks after USC announced a fuel-cell partnership with the Korean Institute for Energy Research (KIER).

USC has been aggressively building its fuel cell program. The hope of the university and community officials involved is that fuel cell research do for USC and Columbia what semiconductor research did for the University of Texas and Austin over the past two decades.

In the 1980s, Austin and the University of Texas attracted the Microelectronics and Computers Technology Corp. consortium and SEMATECH, the Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology consortium.

The result was explosive growth and the Texas capital’s emergence as a key location for high-tech industries. By 1993, more than 20 major firms had located in Austin.

In 2003, the National Science Foundation selected USC as the first Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (I/UCRC) for Fuel Cells in the US. NSF funding for the center will total $210,000 over three years.

It is this selection that USC and industry officials hope will help them replicate the Austin phenomenon, and they are working hard to leverage their position into further funding and research agreements.

The center fosters collaborative research among its industrial partners, who contribute nearly US$500,000 annually to the Center for Fuel Cells. Among the partners are BASF AG, Bulk Molding Compounds Inc., DANA Corp., DuPont Fuel Cells, Eastman Chemical Co., Entegris Inc., FINNCHEM USA Inc., General Motors Corp., John Deere Advanced Power Systems, LG Electronics, Plug Power Inc., Savannah River National Laboratory and W.L. Gore & Associates Inc.

The S.C. Budget and Control Board has given unanimous approval to USC to begin Phase 1 of the USC Research Campus Initiative. The board’s approval cleared the way for the state to issue $58 million in bonds.

Further, officials from the City of Columbia and USC announced the launch of the SC Next Energy Initiative, a cooperative effort among Aiken, Columbia and Greenville that will lead the state’s efforts in research and economic development on hydrogen, fuel cells and other alternative sources of energy.

Last September, the DOE awarded a $2,148,370 grant to USC for hydrogen research, in which USC is partnering with researchers at S.C. State University and the Savannah River National Lab.

Also in 2004, the S.C. Research Centers of Economic Excellence announced awards totaling $5 million to USC for hydrogen fuel cell research. On June 29 2005 USC received an additional $3 million from the group.

In addition to the partnership announced with KIER, USC signed a research agreement in October 2003 with the Korea Automotive Technology Institute to conduct joint fuel-cell research projects for automobiles.

Funding and center-building aside, the University has set out a wide-ranging research agenda, with an initial focus on PEM cell-based systems and process. A summary of the agenda can be found here.


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