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Converting Landfill Gas to Hydrogen: A Novel Green Energy Initiative

EngenuitySC’s Science Café with Russ Keller, May 12, 2015


May 7, 2015 (COLUMBIA, S.C.) – Can researchers make hydrogen fuel cell technology an affordable reality for transportation companies and energy providers? Russ Keller of South Carolina Research Authority will present findings from a landfill gas to hydrogen conversion project at EngenuitySC’s Science Café on Tuesday, May 12, 2015, held at Speakeasy lounge in Columbia, S.C.

Keller serves as the South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA) Applied Technologies R&D managing executive for the company’s Energy, Security & Software Solutions division. One of his recent project collaborations focused on recovering methane from landfill gas, and converting that methane into hydrogen for fuel cells. In his talk, Keller will explain the process, discuss the 42-month project at BMW’s Greer, S.C manufacturing facilities and share what impact this may have on the future of the transportation industry.

Hydrogen fuel cells provide a cost-competitive alternative to traditional battery technology as a power source for material handling fleets. One of the key factors limiting more widespread adoption of this technology is the cost of the hydrogen fuel. Methane conversion to hydrogen is the most common process for producing hydrogen, and the U.S. Department of Energy has been investigating the effectiveness of using various waste gas streams that have high methane content as potential sources of hydrogen.

The Department of Energy’s examination of these “bio-methane” sources that could be converted to hydrogen was occurring at the same time as BMW decided to outfit its new X3 assembly hall at its Greer, S.C. facility with hydrogen fuel cells. The department’s interest in bio-methane sources for hydrogen and BMW’s interest in exploring whether it could produce its own hydrogen on site as a future option for fueling its fuel cell material handling fleet came together to lay the groundwork for an innovative project concept: Could landfill gas be used as a source of hydrogen fuel?

This concept spawned a nationally successful public-private partnership between BMW, the U.S. Department of Energy, the South Carolina Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Alliance, the Gas Technology Institute, Ameresco, Inc. and SCRA. Funding was provided by the Department of Energy, BMW, SCRA, the Blue Moon Foundation, the Fuel Cell Collaborative and Urban Renewable Hydrogen.

One of the biggest inhibitors to widespread deployment of hydrogen fuel cell technology is a concern that it isn’t cost effective. The key is finding economically viable niche markets for hydrogen applications, like forklifts, where it has advantages over existing technologies. BMW has seen these advantages in the form of increased productivity along with time, energy and space savings for the material-handling equipment in their Greer facility. Successful applications of hydrogen fuel cell technology in projects like this and in other markets will help drive down the cost of hydrogen.

At SCRA, Keller leads a series of projects that cover the renewable energy, environmental sustainability, health sciences, homeland security and e-commerce technology domains, and manages a program that promotes R&D collaborations between companies in South Carolina and companies in Israel. Keller joined SCRA in 2005 to lead an effort focused on commercializing hydrogen fuel cell technology in-state.

Keller helped developed the Fuel Cell Collaborative, which subsequently has received the Southern Growth Policies Board Innovator Award and the Excellence in Economic Development Award from the International Economic Development Council. Beyond hydrogen fuel cell technology, Keller has helped established SCRA’s leadership in other areas of alternative energy.


About SCRA

SCRA is a self-sustaining non-profit R&D company that grows the technology-based economy in South Carolina by commercializing intellectual property and supporting and making investments in early-stage companies. Multiple economic impact studies show SCRA’s cumulative output into South Carolina’s economy to be over $18.1 billion since 1983, creating approximately 15,000 technology-related jobs with annual wages averaging between $55,000 and $77,000.


About Science Café

EngenuitySC hosts Science Café at 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday of every month, featuring informal presentations by some of South Carolina’s top leaders in science and technology in a casual atmosphere. Guests enjoy networking and a cash bar with high quality beer, wine and cocktails at Speakeasy in Five Points, a comfortable, pub-style environment with couches and expert mixologists behind the bar. Patrons have the opportunity to discuss the latest knowledge economy topics with leading researchers in a relaxed environment that encourages questions, interruptions and discussion. For more information and to register for free admission (and perks) for the next Science Café, visit http://www.engenuitysc.com/sciencecafe.


About EngenuitySC

Headquartered in Columbia, S.C., EngenuitySC is a public-private partnership focused on enhancing our region’s economic competitiveness and prosperity. Through collaboration with business, government, higher education and community leaders, EngenuitySC builds partnerships and measures success around five indicators of competitive communities: innovative capacity, talent, entrepreneurial/business environment, livability and strong industry clusters. Through our innovative process, unique vision and ability to create a plan and deliver results, EngenuitySC is working to build a more competitive and prosperous Midlands region. For more information, visit http://www.engenuitysc.com.


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