The socioeconomic cabinet on Monday approved a plan by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry to establish a technology center for the research and development of renewable energy in the Negev at an investment of NIS 70 million. "The program will enable Israel to become a major player in the global renewable-energy industry," Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai said. Under the terms of the program, developed in cooperation with the Finance, Environmental Protection and Infrastructures ministries, the R&D center will be set up in the Negev under the auspices of the Chief Scientist's Office at an investment of NIS 70m. over a period of five years. The research center will focus on the development of renewable- and alternative-energy sources for the production of electricity, such as solar and wind energy. The program is based on a research study by the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry and the Environment Protection Ministry identifying the areas within the environment-technology sector that have the potential of boosting Israeli exports. Boaz Hirsch, director of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry's foreign trade administration, said Israeli exports generated from renewable-energy technology were $110 million in 2007. Under the framework of the interministerial, five-year target plan, renewable-energy exports are foreseen to grow to $1 billion a year within 10 years. In addition, R&D investment is expected to increase to $350m. during the 2008-2012 period of the program. Separately, Yishai signed an agreement on Sunday with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev for the establishment of a national biotechnology center in Beersheba. "The establishment of the national biotechnology center in the Negev, next to the hi-tech park operated in cooperation with the Ben-Gurion University, is a significant step in the government's plan for the development of the Negev and in attracting investment into technology as a way of stimulating economic growth in the area," Yishai said. Avi Feldman, director of the ministry's Negev development and employment center, said the center's activities would focus on the development of innovative technologies, in cooperation with academia and other research centers in Israel and around the world. More than 75 percent of the researchers and workers of the center will be Negev residents, he said. "Heading this project is an attempt by the ministry to create a bridge between academic research and industrial R&D, and thereby encourage an exchange of information between academia and industry," Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry director-general Gavriel Maimon said.