AIKEN,Community, government and industry leaders broke ground Monday for a hydrogen research center that will be built in the Aiken County Savannah River Research Campus.

The $9.2 million Center for Hydrogen Research will include a 60,000-square foot building. The purpose of the center is to research, develop and commercialize hydrogen fuel technology.

Among the officials in attendance were U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Congressman Gresham Barrett. Funding for the lab was won after a two-year effort by regional and state leaders.

The Aiken and Edgefield Economic Development Partnership, which led the effort, estimates that the center and other hydrogen-related industry and activity will create nearly 40,000 jobs in South Carolina over the next 16 years.

The Savannah River National Laboratory has been involved in hydrogen research and storage for 50 years.

Providing additional expertise will be the University of South Carolina’s National Science Foundation Fuel Center of Excellence.

The center is scheduled to open in 2005. Officials said 50 researchers and technicians at the Savannah River National Laboratory will staff the center. Another 40 researchers are to be hired over the next two years.

“Today’s groundbreaking symbolizes a breakthrough for the region and an opportunity to build national recognition of the area as a hub for the research and development of hydrogen technology,” said Fred Humes, director of the Aiken and Edgefield Economic Development Partnership, in a statement. “The impact this lab will have on the region will be positive and profound – the entire region will benefit not only from the jobs that the Center brings, but also from the potential investment gained from hydrogen-
related industries that will locate in the area.”

Aiken is located southwest of Columbia near Augusta, Georgia.