April 22, 2010

Vice President of General Motors Talks Future of Auto Industry

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On Thursday, visiting representatives from General Motors drove to Ithaca in a new fuel-cell vehicle to speak to University engineers about their work with sustainable transportation. Led by Daniel Hancock, General Motors’ vice president of global powertraining engineering, the delegation was continuing a longstanding partnership with Cornell. G.M., which lists Cornell as one of ten “key partnership schools,” has supported and collaborated with the College of Engineering for about ten years.  In addition to sponsorship, this partnership includes collaborative work with graduate students on efficient modes of transportation.

Despite having worked for the company for over 40 years, Hancock is new to the position of “key representative” to Cornell, and admitted that he had never been to Ithaca before. “I’m really happy to finally see [Cornell] and to meet a lot of the faculty and staff,” he said.Also present was Joseph F. Mercurio Ph.D. ’89, who is the leader of G.M.’s recruiting team at Cornell. He expressed playful jealousy of professors and staff members who get to spend extra time on the Hill.“Not everybody [gets to] stay at Cornell forever,” Mercurio said.One of the highlights of the visit was Hancock’s lecture “Driving to a Sustainable Future,” which he delivered to an audience of  200 engineering students, professors and other interested members of the community in Olin Hall Thursday.Hancock discussed the energy dilemmas facing the petroleum-addicted world. He noted that 96 percent of the transportation industry depends on this non-renewable resource. If such consumption continues or even decreases slightly, Hancock said that the world will require the oil equivalent of six more Saudi Arabias.“It’s a problem that needs to be addressed pretty aggressively,” he said.He went on to discuss efforts to move away from gasoline and diesel towards “greater degrees of electrification of our vehicles.” He described a spectrum ranging from a hybrid car to a fuel cell vehicle.Fuel cell vehicles are powered by the dissociation of electrons in hydrogen gas. Hancock referred to this kind of automobile — a model of which he drove to the Cornell visit and parked in front of Carpenter Hall — as “the holy grail” of efficient vehicles.Hancock said the vehicle encountered no problems during the drive to Cornell and that he was “very encouraged” by the success of the trip.After the lecture Hancock and his colleagues met with student groups also working to create innovative forms of transportation. The undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students of The Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Team, the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers Racecar Team and the 100+ MPG/Automotive X-Prize Team all presented their work to the visitors.Derek Chiao ’13, a member of the Racecar team, expressed excitement and satisfaction at the G.M. visit. He noted that the company is the team’s title sponsor and was eager to present student ideas and work — such as a carbon-fiber car frame — to the professionals.“[T]omorrow is a good chance to show G.M. our progress and our innovative car this year,” he said.Hancock stressed the importance of continuous improvement and development of existing technologies, a process in which Cornell’s budding engineers are already taking part.The goal of sustainability will indeed require the work of new generations of engineers. “There is no silver bullet, there is no single solution,” Hancock said. “You can’t get there overnight.”

Original Author: Eliza LaJoie