Duke, GM to Jointly Explore Fuel Cell Technology Growth Dynamics

Duke University and the General Motors Corp. have reached agreement on a multi-year, interdisciplinary teaching and research project aimed at furthering worldwide efforts to develop hydrogen fuel cell vehicles by 2010, the university and company announced Jan. 13.

Duke’s Fuqua School of Business is spearheading the project with significant participation in the teaching from the Pratt School of Engineering and the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy.

The project formally began with the launch of a graduate-level course for students from all three parts of Duke called “Interdisciplinary Issues in Introducing Radical Technological Change in the Established Business.” It will teach students to understand and manage a broad set of opportunities and issues associated with revolutionary technology change.

General Motors has given Duke an initial donation of about $500,000 for the project.

“We are thrilled to be right in the middle of this technological revolution that has broad, global implications,” Fuqua Dean Douglas T. Breeden said.

Heading GM’s interaction with Duke on this initiative will be Larry Burns, vice president of research and development, and planning. “We are reinventing automobiles around fuel cell propulsion systems using hydrogen as an energy carrier,” he said. “We believe this technology holds the key to removing the automobile from the environmental debate, while at the same time making vehicles more fun to drive, safer, and more useful to customers.

“This is a top priority for General Motors,” Burns said. “Collaborating with Duke’s outstanding faculty and students is providing GM with an excellent opportunity to further explore the technical, policy, and business aspects of strategic decisions involving disruptive technological change.”

The research portion of the project is entitled “Management of Radical Technological Change” and will be conducted by Fuqua professors Will Mitchell, Michael Lenox, and Wes Cohen. According to Fuqua Executive-in-Residence James F. Rabenhorst, who is responsible for coordinating all aspects of the initiative. “GM’s sponsorship will help advance the research agenda of these talented faculty members, link this research to an ongoing course, and provide value to the parties trying to implement radical change.”

Pratt School of Engineering Dean Kristina M. Johnson said, “This should be a model for interdisciplinary, mission-focused education. Students from engineering, business, and public policy will learn how technology and policy are linked in creating revolutionary change in our culture.” She added that it is expected that this educational experience will also fuel research projects that extend beyond the supply-chain management and logistics of furthering worldwide efforts in adopting such technology.

Robert Clark Jr., Pratt‘s senior associate dean for research, hailed the combination of a “pull from industry” and a “push from academics” as capable of creating significant societal impact. “This can be a true model for university/industry collaboration,” he said.

The public policy implications of fuel cell technology are vital in its success. “New technology, especially in the global marketplace, raises many policy-related questions,” said Sanford Institute Director Bruce W. Jentleson. “How will the development and implementation of such initiatives affect environmental policy, the international energy economy, and political and regulatory decision-making? These are compelling and complicated issues.”