Launched in 2006, the Fuel Cell Challenge is designed to invest in accelerating the commercialization of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies through collaboration between industry leaders and the cutting-edge research at the University of South Carolina. To date, the program has allocated almost $5 million in funding through more than 20 partnerships that have helped to establish new companies, commercialize new technologies and advance the innovation pipeline for the hydrogen and fuel cell industries in South Carolina.

This year's challenge aims to connect industry needs to University of South Carolina expertise by engaging interdisciplinary student teams to tackle submitted "challenges". Students from engineering, chemistry, materials, and business backgrounds will compete for funding to solve scientific, technical, or business-related problems submitted by companies from all over the world.


1. Industry Challenge

Through this competition, hydrogen and fuel cell firms submit research and development challenges they face on a regular basis. These challenges should present an problem that, if solved, would improve overall business operations.

Once submitted, a faculty panel from the University of South Carolina will review and vet the Challenges, selecting a final pool. From there, the submissions are advertised on campus at USC and interdisciplinary student teams (with faculty advisers) will work together to propose solutions to the the firm's issue. A review panel will select the best proposals fund up to 2 teams to execute their plan. Winning student teams will work with faculty, company representatives, and the Fuel Cell Collaborative Management team during the spring 2013 semester (January-May 2013) to research, develop, and test their proposed solution, culminating in a final presentation on their findings.

2. Innovation Challenge

The Innovation Challenge is an opportunity for students who have an innovative technology, concept or idea to submit a proposal for funding to execute it, along with a team of colleagues and faculty adviser. As with the Industry Challenge, proposals should include an interdisciplinary approach that balances business expertise with technical feasibility. Further details can be found below and on the Frequently Asked Questions page.


So, what exactly is the Fuel Cell Challenge? Basically, this is your chance to win up to $75,000 in research funding. Interested? Keep reading...
The Fuel Cell Challenge, in it’s fifth year, is a competition for USC students aimed at showcasing fuel cell and business expertise right here in Columbia. To do this, we have developed two separate competitions that you can participate in:

The Industry Challenge

Starting in June, we began talking to fuel cell companies around the country and around the world, and we discovered that they all had unique R&D issues that the smart folks at USC could help solve. So, we began looking into ways to connect those companies and their problems to experts in Columbia, and that’s how the Industry Challenge evolved.

Through the Industry Challenge, we will fund student teams at USC to solve real world technical and business challenges companies face in developing and deploying hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. Whether it's work on the next catalyst for a fuel cell, mapping their regional hydrogen and fuel cell value chain, or marketing their product, the Industry Challenge is here to help. Industries submitted their challenges to us, and now we’re letting you read them and compete to solve your favorites.

The Innovation Challenge

Think you’ve got a big idea, but need a little cash flow to get it off the ground? That’s what the Innovation Challenge is here to do. We will provide seed money to help your team develop a prototype or investigate and prove the concept for a unique technology. The end product will be a business plan featuring your product or concept - presented to potential investors.

Because we love entrepreneurship around here, we wanted to give students the ability to compete for funding without the specificity of the submitted Industry Challenges. Thus, the Innovation Challenge was established, and it could be the big break you’ve been searching for!

Sounds interesting - But what's in it for me?

Besides a shot at some serious grant funding, there’s a lot to gain from participating in the Fuel Cell Challenge, like:
  • Start up funding to launch a new firm or fuel cell technology;
  • Chance to lead on a project that develops a solution to a real world problem;
  • Interaction with industry professionals who can mentor you and open doors to future career possibilities;
  • Opportunity to develop new relationships inside and outside of USC;
  • Access to potential funding sources locally and within the industry;
  • Intellectual property protection and commercialization strategy (including a patentability assessment) from the USC Technology Commercialization;

Got it - What do I do next?

First and foremost, you should apply. Right now. Seriously, do it. Right here.

Any team of USC students (undergraduate or graduate) can compete. All you need is a faculty advisor and the right teammates from various disciplines to collaborate and participate.

If your team has the brains and talent to solve challenging problems faced by companies engaged fuel cell market, apply to the Industry Challenge.

If your team is ahead of the curve with a next-generation fuel cell product no one's thought of yet, then apply to the Innovation Challenge.

Either way, get involved and apply for a piece of our $75,000 grant to make your ideas reality.

I've got a lot going right now - Do I have time for this?

Simple answer? Yes. You do.

We really want you to participate, and while we think a chance at $75,000 is pretty nice, we aim to impress. So get this...
  • We know applying for money can be time consuming and tricky, especially when you're a full-time student working in labs, reading 150 pages each night, trying to meet deadlines for your professors, and attempting to squeeze 5 minutes into your day just to relax and breathe. So we've limited the application to ONLY a few pages. Totally doable.
  • We’ve also got a thorough website with an awesome FAQ page that will answer all of your questions on eligibility, selection and judging criteria, what to submit, how funding works, what your team should look like, deadlines, etc.
  • Finally, we’ve posted this little blog to help answer any specific questions you have.

Alright, I'm convinced. Where do I apply again? 

Excellent. You won’t regret participating. Here’s what we suggest doing next:
  1. Check out our Frequently Asked Questions, the applications, and our blog. These should give you a good idea of what you’re getting yourself into.
  2. Spend some time looking through the Industry Challenge Submissions, especially if you think that’s the contest you want to enter. You’ll see where we’ve segmented them by expertise (ie, business majors, engineering experts, marketing guru’s, etc) so they’re easy to navigate.
  3. Start thinking about who should be on your team so you can be the most competitive. Don’t just limit yourself to your lab partner, but think outside the box to other Colleges on campus. We reward interdisciplinary efforts, so try to sprinkle in a variety of educational backgrounds.
  4. Make sure you submit your applications ON OR BEFORE THE DEADLINE - OCTOBER 22, 2012. We intentionally selected that date so it’s after Fall Break, meaning those of you who are procrastinators will have two days with no class to get it all submitted. However, that deadline is hard and fast. There will be no late applications accepted.
  5. Contact us. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask. We’d love to hear from you, and we want to make this process easy, so let us know if there’s anything we can provide that might be helpful.


The deadline has passed to submit your Industry Challenge for this year's competition. Student teams are already working to draft proposals for these Challenges submitted this year. Think you'd be interested in participating next year? Let us know by email, and we'll get you reminders in the spring when we get ready to kickoff the next round in 2013.


The Fuel Cell Collaborative has created a unique opportunity to leverage resources at the University of South Carolina and other Collaborative members to help your company’s fuel cell commercialization efforts. The Fuel Cell Collaborative has $75,000 for funding 2 student teams to help build your business. The challenges and goals will be identified by industry and the Fuel Cell Collaborative who will then jointly solicit teams of University of South Carolina students and faculty to propose solutions. 

The winning teams will be selected and funded by the Fuel Cell Collaborative with input from your company. The teams will then work on the challenges during their spring semester and present results in May 2013. In addition to funding from the Fuel Cell Collaborative, additional support for student teams can be directly provided by companies through SCRA or the University of South Carolina.


Columbia and USC are leaders in hydrogen and fuel cell development and commercialization efforts with many unique facilities and capabilities. This program seeks to leverage those capabilities to help your company in its commercialization efforts. USC and the Fuel Cell Collaborative have solutions to meet your needs whether your project is diagnostic testing of new fuel cell components, developing a viral video for social media outreach, analytical characterization of new materials, business plan development, innovative project finance methods, or other areas of interest. Although it is difficult to make an exhaustive list, some of the many capabilities include:

Technical Business Arts / Internet / Education
PEMFC Development Business Planning Video Recording / Editing
SOFC Development Marketing Graphic Arts
PBI Development Finance Logo Design
Catalyst Development Legal Issues Website Development
Electrochem. Modeling Regulatory Issues Technical Writing
Polymer Development Social Media Strategies Powerpoint Design
H2 Storage Development IP Support / Evaluation Grant Writing
Microstructure Model. Market Research Translations
Electronics and Controls HR Strategy Support Employee Training Devel.
Systems Modeling GIS Studies Public Outreach
FE / CFD Analysis Tax Planning Tech. Training Modules

Fuel Cell Collaborative staff can work with your company to identify resources that will help to solve your problems. Projects are encouraged to make use of different disciplines within at USC.


The following groups are active participants in this year's Challenge and will guarantee companies, students, and the Fuel Cell Collaborative come to amenable agreements for what determines completion and success for each winning project.

College of Engineering & Computing at the University of South Carolina
College of Arts & Sciences at the University of South Carolina
The Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina
Office of Technology Commercialization at the University of South Carolina
University of South Carolina/Columbia Technology Incubator
Innovista at the University of South Carolina
SC Launch, a program of SCRA's Technology Ventures Division