Swiss-American duo wins Israeli prize for work in solar-based fuels

Israel has announced it is awarding a $1 million prize to a Swiss-American research duo for their work in converting solar energy into electricity capable of moving vehicles.

The Eric and Sheila Samson Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation in Alternative Fuels for Transportation will be awarded to Prof. Thomas Meyer of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Prof. Michael Grätzel of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland.

Meyer and Grätzel are developing cheap and efficient processes that can be used for vehicle propulsion. The scientists excel in the design of energy conversion systems, specifically photovoltaic cells that split water into hydrogen and oxygen using sunlight – a critical step in the generation of solar-based fuels, whose only emissions are water.

Prof. Thomas Meyer

"We are making a major multi-year effort so that we will not be dependent on fluctuations in the price of oil," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in announcing the winners. "This prize gives the researchers true appreciation for their efforts."

Meyer said, "Receiving the Samson award is a remarkable honor and I am thrilled to receive it with Michael Grätzel. In fact, the award is a recognition of the research efforts of many students and colleagues over the years."

This is the second time Israel awards the Eric and Sheila Samson prize, which in 2013 was awarded to University of Southern California Prof. G.A. Olah and Prof. S. Prakash for developing and advancing the Methanol Economy.

Avi Anati, of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Space, said the prize was in line with the government’s National Program to Reduce the Global Dependence on Oil, initiated in 2011 with the aim of encouraging global innovation and scientific breakthroughs in the field of alternative transportation fuels.

The 2014 prize, Anati said, will be awarded to the winners on December 3 during Tel Aviv’s Fuels Choices Summit, an international conference promoting oil alternatives.

Israel’s innovation tech drive

The Eric and Sheila Samson Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation in Alternative Fuels for Transportation isn’t Israel’s only step towards encouraging innovation in clean technologies.

The Eilat Eilot initiative, which emerged in 2007 aiming to promote renewable energy development in the desert area of the Eilat and Arava regions in southern Israel, has set up the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, a leading Middle East research and education center.

Among the Arava Institute’s departments is the Center for Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation (CREEC), which leads research on renewable energy and energy conservation technologies. One of CREEC’s projects is investigating the viability of producing hydrogen, a carbon-free fuel, on board motor vehicles for use in transportation.

The Eilat Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative’s partnership with Capital Nature, an investment firm focused on funding and accelerating early stage ventures in the field of renewable energy, has led to about $6 million invested in clean technologies start-ups.

Recently, the Eilat-Eilot Renewable Energy Initiative also announced that in December it will be launching the Eilat Eilot Off Grid Hub, a new technology hub focusing on developing and demonstrating off grid technologies.

Previously, it had launched the tender for the first phase of a 170 MW PV park.