Netanyahu awards $1 million prize for biofuel innovation

Award for alternative fuel innovation given to Prof. George A. Olah, Prof. G.K. Surya Prakash for work on methanol economy.

Netanyahu awards biofuel prize 370 (photo credit: Avi Hayoun)
Netanyahu awards biofuel prize 370
(photo credit: Avi Hayoun)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu awarded the first annual Samson prize for alternative fuel innovation on Tuesday, which at $1 million is the largest such prize in the world. It went to Prof. George A. Olah and Prof. G.K. Surya Prakash from the University of Southern California for their work on methanol economy.
“We’re determined to end the monopoly of oil on transportation,” Netanyahu said at the presentation, which took place during the Bloomberg Alternative Fuels Conference in Tel Aviv.
“Both of these great researchers and thinkers have made a significant contribution to our efforts. The goal is to attract the finest minds in the world to address this global challenge,” Netanyahu said.
Borrowing from his recent rhetoric on Iran – a problem he noted was related to the world’s addiction to petroleum – Netanyahu said the prize was “a big thing. A very, very big thing.”
The winners’ research focused on how to cheaply convert natural gas to methanol using recycled carbon dioxide.
Philanthropists Eric and Sheila Samson donated half the money for the prize, which will be awarded every year for the next decade.
The government has set a target of reducing the use of fuel in transportation by 60 percent by 2025, a goal that would add 1% to national economic growth, Eyal Rosner, head of the Alternative Fuels Administration in the Prime Minister’s Office, said Tuesday.
According to Rosner, the economic advantage comes mostly from savings to consumers, but also from environmental savings, tax revenues and the creation of a new industry around biofuels.
Alternate fuels would also stabilize fuel prices, helping businesses, Rosner said.
The recurring theme of the summit was that a variety of fuel options competing with one another was the path forward.
Fuels, such as methanol and ethanol, can be safely mixed with gasoline and are sometimes cheaper and more efficient than gasoline on its own. However, only cars built or retrofitted with special engines can use the fuel.
Wesley Clark, a former US Army general who now cochairs the ethanol lobbying group Growth Energy, said the issue carried strategic, economic and environmental importance, not just for Israel but for the world as a whole, and the United States in particular.
The US, he noted, uses 19 billion barrels a day of petroleum, meaning it must spend $300 billion a year to import oil despite being the world’s largest producer. “That’s 2% of US GDP,” he said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, a sum that is greater than that of government spending on college education, infrastructure and healthcare.
“It solves all the budget arguments if you think about that huge amount of money year after year, and then you look at the policy implications,” he said.