Toyota’s hydrogen patents are positive step for local effort

January  16, 2015

Officials at the Hydrogen Research Center near the Savannah River Site said Toyota’s decision to share nearly 6,000 patents for the development of hydrogen-fueled vehicles re-emphasizes their mission to be a driving force in pushing the unique cars into the mainstream.

Toyota made the announcement earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show. The company’s fuel-cell system includes fuel-cell technology and hybrid technology that is said to be more energy efficient than internal-combustion engines. The local hydrogen center sits inside of the Applied Research Center, or ARC, on Gateway Drive.

Director Fred Humes said the center works in conjunction with the Savannah River National Lab on developing the technology.

Theodore Motyka, hydrogen program manager for the lab, said all of the major car companies are all coming out with the vehicles.

Motyka said each company in the United States has a mandate to get the average mileage up per gallon, and they get credit for completing the task.

Currently, California and then New York are at the forefront of the technology because of size and resources. However, Motyka said South Carolina also can play a huge role if the state continues to showcase the technology, which includes a hydrogen-fueled truck at the center and a hydrogen-fueled bus in North Augusta.

The bus in North Augusta has already been used for tours, kids’ programs, transporting North Augusta City Council members and officials, Rotary Club members and others.

“When people see these vehicles, the conversation shifts and the question becomes, ‘When can I get one?’” Motyka said. “That’s the movement we’re beginning to see, and we’re structuring ourselves to be in the top five as automakers are looking for other states to place vehicles and develop the infrastructure.”

Joette Sonnenberg, an engineering and energy professional at Applied Research Center, said the key to getting hydrogen cars at the forefront is being proactive.

Beginning with the George W. Bush administration, the Palmetto state took inventory and stock of its resources and put together an economic cluster to prepare for the technology.

“We’ve got the Applied Research Center, which integrates universities, as well as the lab; and that’s a key to spark innovation and partnerships, and the lab has the highest concentration of hydrogen researchers in the U.S.,” Sonnenberg said.

Even with the progress, Humes said the national market is facing challenges to reduce the size of the tanks on the cars and to maintain funding to keep work on the technology. But with the backing worldwide car companies, Humes said the cars will eventually hit the road on a more consistent basis with roughly the same gas mileage as any other vehicle.

Aiken County boasts one of the only hydrogen-fuel stations in the Southeast, located at the Sage Mill Industrial Park in Graniteville. The North Augusta bus and the hydrogen truck at the center are only two examples of cars that use the station.

Humes said companies have traveled from all across the state, and others with Alabama license plates, have stopped to refuel since the station is right off I-20.

“The significant thing that Toyota is doing is demonstrating a commitment to take the technology forward,” he said. “With our emphasis on hydrogen, anything that’s a significant, positive step in that direction is going to be a benefit to us.”