Fueling the Future

March 31, 2004

General Motors and Duke have reached an agreement on a multi-year, interdisciplinary teaching and research project aimed at furthering worldwide efforts to develop hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles by 2010. Duke's Fuqua School of Business is spearheading the project, with significant participation from the Pratt School of Engineering and the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy.

The project formally began in January, with the launch of a graduate course called "Interdisciplinary Issues in Introducing Radical Technological Change in the Established Business." It is designed to teach students to understand and manage a broad set of opportunities and issues associated with revolutionary technology change. GM has given Duke an initial donation of about $500,000 for the project.

Working with Duke on the initiative is GM's vice president of research and development and planning, Larry Burns. "We are reinventing automobiles around fuel-cell propulsion systems using hydrogen as an energy carrier," Burns says. "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."

The research portion of the project, "Management of Radical Technological Change," will be conducted by Fuqua professors Will Mitchell, Michael Lenox, and Wes Cohen. Fuqua Executive-in-Residence James F. Rabenhorst is responsible for coordinating all aspects of the initiative.

Pratt School officials say this project could be a model for both university-industry collaboration and 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," says Kristina M. Johnson, dean of the Pratt School.

The public-policy implications of fuel-cell technology are vital to its success, according to Bruce W. Jentleson, director of the Sanford Institute of Public Policy. "New technology, especially in the global marketplace, raises many policy-related questions. 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."