Energy Secretary of the United States Steven Chu stepped briefly into USC’s innovative energy research district, touring a portion of the multimillion-dollar development the university hopes will spearhead the way to world leadership in fuel cell technology.

Chu’s stop in downtown Columbia came on the tail end of a daylong swing through the region aimed at drawing attention to the relationship between small business and a clean energy economy, including two stops in Orangeburg.

Researchers at the University of South Carolina put on a full-court press to tout the practical uses of hydrogen and fuel cells, such as fueling buses.

“I am very excited by what I’ve seen today,” Chu said after the USC tour.

Chu was accompanied on the tour by 6th District U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and officials representing the White House and the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Chu heard a private presentation from USC president Harris Pastides, researchers and other hydrogen promoters in the Horizon Center at the corner of South Main and Blossom streets on several facets of the developing, first-of-its-kind integrated Fuel Cell District.

USC and its partners, including the public-private S.C. Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Alliance, have a 20-year strategy to put South Carolina at the forefront of a hydrogen and fuel cell economy.

Chu, a physicist appointed by President Obama in 2009, has been criticized by hydrogen proponents as being ambivalent about hydrogen’s viability as an alternative fuel source and was questioned by Congress about his views on hydrogen energy in April.

“There (are) some people who felt that I was trying to get rid of fuel cells, totally altogether. That is absolutely not true,” Chu said, speaking to reporters. “We still want to fund the research and development of these fuel cells.

“As financial pressures increase, we’re trying to look for what is the best way to apportion the precious research dollars we do have, and how much in these various technologies.”

Fuel cells give off electricity as long as they have a continuous source of hydrogen and water, experts say, giving them the capability, for instance, to enhance a battery’s range.

USC officials said they wanted Chu to understand both the state and university’s commitment to hydrogen and fuel cell technology as a viable answer to the worldwide energy problem. Some technical barriers remain, they said, and other solutions exist, including natural gas, which Chu has touted.

For more information see: SunNews