June 18, 2005

USC, Partner to Study Fuel Cell Technology

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The University of South Carolina has a new partner in its effort to develop a technology that some researchers say could become an alternate power source.

USC President Andrew Sorensen said Friday the university has signed an agreement with a South Korean energy laboratory to collaborate research on fuel cell technology. The agreement allows the university and the Korea Institute of Energy Research to exchange scientists and share research findings.

"All of us suffer from the diminution of fossil fuels, and we need to look for other forms of energy," Sorensen said.

Sorensen said the partnership will draw on the strengths of each institution in fuel cell research and could give the university an edge in attracting grants and private investors to its research center planned in downtown Columbia, where fuel cell researchers will work.

The university plans to complete construction on the first two buildings of the center by fall 2006. The $58 million project received approval this week by the Budget and Control Board.

The center has partnerships with 15 private companies, government laboratories and other organizations to study fuel cells - a technology that some scientists hope could become a clean energy source for cars and commercial power plants.

Other scientists say the fuel cells could hurt Earth's atmosphere and are too expensive to be an alternative to more common sources of energy.

The government-funded Korea Institute is the only one in the country specializing in energy research, said Ik-Soo Choi, president of the institute. Its research helps guide South Korea's energy policies.

"There are many brilliant scientists in Korea already working in this area," Choi said through an interpreter. "This collaboration will strengthen the fuel cell research under way at each institution and provide additional opportunities for our top scientists to conduct research that will benefit our nations' energy needs."

Two years ago, the University of South Carolina became the only institution in the nation to house a fuel cell research center funded by the National Science Foundation. The center has about 30 researchers.