$15m project to fund energy, biofuels research

Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust funds project overseen by Weizmann Institute the Technion.

October 25, 2012 05:32
2 minute read.
Solar panel

Solar panel 390. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Scientists across Israel will be receiving portions of a $15 million gift to develop solar energy and biofuels research, in a project overseen by the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology.

The funds come from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, established by Leona two years after her husband’s death and eight years before her own, continuing the American couple’s lifetime of giving to health and science.

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Dispensed over the course of three years, the $15m. will fund the work of scientists developing renewable energy from a variety of fields, initially focusing on biofuels, photovoltaics and optics for light harvesting, according to information from the Weizmann Institute.

Jointly heading the entire project will be Weizmann’s Prof. David Cahen and the Technion’s Prof. Gideon Grader.

Among the different types of biofuels research will be the generation of effective methods for breaking down plant matter into useable resources, the development of algae as an economical fuel provider and the growth of plants that can sustainably provide materials for conversion to biofuels, the Weizmann Institute said.

In order to catalyze this research, the Helmsley Trust will help build state-of-the art facilities for biofuels development at the institute.

The photovoltaics and optics portions of the research will aim to create new materials that can harness a larger portion of the sun’s energy, as today’s solar cells can only use a limited part of the sun’s light, according to the Weizmann Institute. Critical to this research will be new, cuttingedge tools from the plasmonics, nanostructures and metamaterials sciences. In addition to developing the new materials themselves, researchers will also be determining improved methods for efficiently converting solar energy into electricity, the institute said.

While many researchers benefiting from the funds will be from the Weizmann Institute’s Alternative Energy Research Initiative and the Grand Technion Energy Program, there will also be scientists from the Centers of Research Excellence and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev participating in the joint venture.

“Alternative energy is one of the most important, as well as one of the most exciting fields of research today,” Cahen said. “With this grant from the Helmsley Trust, we hope to attract bright, innovative researchers and students to the field. We know that a whole array of energy options will be needed to replace today’s non-renewable and polluting fossil fuels; all of our present efforts are essential to ensure our energy future.”

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