Public policies and socio-economic approaches related to fuel cells

Area organizer: Fabienne Picard, MCF

Overcoming scientific and technological obstacles around FCs is necessary but not sufficient for industrial deployment of this technology. Indeed, the literature on such technological innovation systems shows clearly that this is a complex system whose emergence and spread, in the Schumpeterian sense, can only be done if it is accompanied with fundamental changes in the economic, institutional and broader socio-cultural conditions that surround it. The evolution towards a sustainable energy system is a complex process that can only be thought in an open systems view in which economic, organizational, institutional social dimensions, … overlap.

The purpose of this research is to analyze the overlap between the technological, institutional and socio-economic characteristics of socio-technical innovation systems that the FCs are.


Contemporary literature groups under the term « sustainable transition » all issues related to the development of new socio-technical systems, or innovation systems, friendly to the environment and sensitive to operating conditions, usage resources such as energy, to production conditions and use of products. These innovation systems are characterized not only by the appearance of new technologies, but also new actors, new institutions, new markets, new practices …
Several areas of activities are directly affected by this systemic change, either agricultural biodiversity and food security, water management and waste or urban development and construction. The fields of energy and transport are mainly concerned by sustainable transition driven by a low-carbon and efficient energy system. The fuel cell itself as a technology could facilitate the transition to a sustainable energy economy. Even though this technology is not completely new, it can hardly find a form of significant industrial deployment.

Research questions

1) The energy transition is a long-term process (40 -50 years) and the current situation leads to a re-examination of the past. What can be learned from a comparative analysis of the FC socio-technical system after World War II and of the current system? Barriers are more structural or temporal? What are the breaking links necessary for the dissemination of this technology? What are the roles of different stakeholders (government, researchers, manufacturers, users …) of the system? How the public actor can or not contribute? How the socio-technical innovation of FCs is institutionally embedded? How this fitting was historically constructed? How is it changing?

2) How the acceptance of this technology is it socially constructed? Considering that the social acceptance of the technology is in part related to the representations that actors construct and disseminate, how these representations influence these processes of emergence and acceptance of this technology? What roles and practices they perform experiments on the evolution of these representations?

The laboratory RECITS – Research on the Industrial, Technological and Social Change, includes fifteen researchers (PU, MCF) and sixteen PhD students in the following fields: history, philosophy, sociology, management science and economics. Its epistemological posture, consistent with its institutional position in a University of Technology, led it to apply technology as a human science, and think consistently institutional change, organizational, industrial, technological and societal impacts and territorial.

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