The Alternative Energy Impact Center

The Alternative Energy Impact Center

At Bar-Ilan University, the Alternative Energy Impact Center is making it easy to quit fossil fuels. Their work is crucial to making Israel an energy-independent nation and a leading exporter of alternative energy technology.

The world’s energy demand is projected to quadruple by 2050. If we choose fossil fuels for more than 80% of our energy, we choose to breathe 70 billion more tons of carbon dioxide every year, to expose ourselves to increasing quantities of radioactive material in the air, to drink acid rain, to eat poisoned crops, and to waste our children in war after war to control oil reserves.

In the Alternative Energy Impact Center, each lab conducts cutting-edge basic science and then applies its findings to build disruptive alternative energy technology.

The Path Forward

To give a few highlights of our work:

Founded in 2012 with a national mandate, the Israel National Research Center for Electrochemical Propulsion (INREP) is developing advanced batteries and fuel cells which will make possible universal adoption of petroleum-free ground transportation. It creates new materials and new structures used in these devices and prototypes the commercial batteries and fuel cells which feature its scientists’ most creative and daring ideas. INREP comprises 22 outstanding research groups: nine groups from BIU, six from the Technion, five from Tel-Aviv University, one from the Weizmann Institute, and one from Ariel University. INREP Director Prof. Aurbach ranks among the top chemists in the world. He is famous for his work on the Lithium-ion battery—now standard issue in mobile phones and computers. INREP has an excellent network of partners among industry leaders, including, GM, BASF, and LG.

Cost-Efficient Fuel cells. By using chemical reactions to produce electricity, fuel cells can cut air pollution (since their exhaust is just clean water) and sound pollution (since they have no moving mechanical parts to make noise), while also reducing the danger of traffic accidents (since unlike combustion engines, they don’t explode). The main factor hampering the adoption of fuel cells is the high cost of their components, especially the catalysts, which in most cases are made of platinum.

Prof. David Zitoun is the world’s leading developer of alkaline fuel cells. He is reducing the cost of fuel cells and batteries with electrocatalysts and for electrodes based on non-precious metals. His fuel cells can power cars as well as much larger machines and much smaller devices.

Dr. Lior Elbaz is reducing the cost of fuel cells by increasing the durability of their electrodes. He works closely with the Israeli Defense Force on fuel cells for long-range ground vehicles, boats, and submarines. Among Israel’s most promising young researchers, Dr. Elbaz joined Bar-Ilan University following a fellowship at the renowned Los Alamos National Laboratory.

High-Temperature Superconductors—When electricity flows through a regular wire, the wire to some extent resists the electric flow. Superconductors, however, let electricity flow with zero resistance. Superconductors could revolutionize the generation, storage, and transportation of energy. There is a challenge, however: to date, superconductors must be kept very, very cold.

Prof. Yossi Yeshurun, Israel’s leading authority on high-temperature superconductors, is fabricating thin films patterned with large arrays of superconducting nanowires and loops. He aims to use superconductors to improve our energy infrastructure radically. Prof. Yeshurun also made a fault current limiter which automatically adjusts the flow of electricity through power networks when short-circuits occur. It was named one of the top five technological breakthroughs by General Electric Corporation, and it garnered Prof. Yeshurun the ACES Award for academic inventors.

The fault current limiter is now in commercial development with an Israeli startup.

High-Efficiency Conversion of Waste into Biofuels—Liquid biofuel can be stored easily and even used in existing engines.

Bio-fuels have not been feasible on large-scales, though, because their crops would consume too much land. Prof. Aharon Gedanken converts used cooking oils—canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, etc.—into fuel, using a conventional domestic microwave oven. His process has an efficiency of 99% and requires only 10 seconds. He has partnerships with several East Asian countries where vast quantities of cooking oil are thrown out daily.

Together with his partners, he is turning this waste disposal problem into an energy solution.

Prof. Gedanken and Dr. Yaron Yehoshua have also overcome the land usage problem in another way: they use the seas. The researchers have developed a one-step process requiring just five minutes that fully converts algae lipids into biodiesel. Prof. Gedanken and Dr. Yehoshua are working to scale up their methods into industrial means of production.

Inexpensive Solar Energy and Designer Materials—The sun provides ample energy, but the photovoltaic cells we use to convert it into electricity are made of expensive materials. President of Bar-Ilan University Prof. Arie Zaban aims to reduce their cost while increasing their efficiency by discovering or synthesizing novel materials. Novel materials may be the answer to numerous technological challenges. Moreover, so he is creating a fully-automated data production floor that will work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, producing, testing, analyzing, and storing data about millions, and perhaps even billions, of different compounds. This will allow us to design the perfect material for each new technology.

The Champions

At the helm of the Alternative Energy Impact Center is the distinguished Prof. Doron Aurbach professor of Chemistry. Prof. Aurbach is a trusted leader with an outstanding leadership record as Director of the Israel National Research Center for Electrochemical Propulsion, as Director of the Nano-Cleantech Center, as Associate Editor of the three top electrochemistry journals, and as the Chair of the Israel Lab Accreditation Authority.

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