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April 30, 2006

GM official: We need alternatives to oil

From: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - Rochester,NY,USA - Apr 30, 2006

Burns, fuel cell research leader, tells RIT students to always be adaptable

Greg Livadas
Staff writer

(April 30, 2006) — There are 850 million vehicles in the world, yet only 12 percent of the world's population owns one.

And even if every vehicle now ran 25 percent more efficiently with alternative fuels, the current demand for oil would be the same in 2020, when an estimated 1 billion cars and trucks will be used, said Larry D. Burns, vice president of research and strategic development for General Motors.

"We need to get an alternative to petroleum," said Burns, who helps oversee GM's fuel cell research facility in Honeoye Falls. GM has spent $1 billion researching alternative fuel technology since 1996.

Burns was in town Friday for a speech to students and staff at Rochester Institute of Technology's National Technical Institute for the Deaf on the changing nature of the workplace.

Burns said 1.5 million GM-made cars can now run on ethanol. But hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, might be used to propel our cars by 2010.

The Honeoye Falls plant, he said, is the "the brain center for General Motor's fuel cell development."

Burns expects fuel cell technology to be available at dealerships by 2015. Solar power "could be a major player" by then as well.

"It can't cost more than a gasoline engine or else we can't sell volume," Burns said. They would need to sell 500,000 or a million vehicles a year to remain competitive.

The automotive industry is one example of a business changing with time. Employees also must be more adaptable, he said.

Burns is an example of that. He woke up deaf one day 13 years ago, for no known reason. He received a cochlear implant a year later, and now serves on NTID's National Advisory Group.

"Suddenly, things were not as clear as they used to be," he said.

Burns said jobs now are no longer simply white collar or blue collar, but rather "striped collar" that need varying levels of skill, cognitive ability, communication and personal interaction skills.

You must think about what you need to accomplish. There is a natural tendency to procrastinate.

"Think about how you use your time and do the tasks you do," Burns said. "Prioritizing is critical."

Burns said a college degree isn't a substitute for real world experience.

"Education is not a destination. It's a start," he said. "I've seen a number of students come into General Motors. They've gotten their education and think all they have to do now is to apply their skills. Universities need to prepare students for the ability to learn."

RIT President Albert Simone called Burns' talk "enlightening and informative."

"You have to learn how to learn and that has to go on for a lifetime," he said.

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