US-Israeli research fund emphasizes interconnection between energy, water

The BIRD Foundation was established in 1977 by the US and Israelto develop, fund R and D partnerships among companies from both countries.

Solar panels370 (photo credit: Courtesy Shikun Vebinuini and Suntech)
Solar panels370
(photo credit: Courtesy Shikun Vebinuini and Suntech)
Projects that focus on the integration of renewable-energy development and water innovation will be a key to future progress of global technology, according to an American- Israeli research fund.
“For us in Israel, the importance of water is very clear,” Limor Nakar-Vincent, US business development and BIRD Energy director at the United States-Israel Binational Industrial Research and Development (BIRD) Foundation, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
“But we also know that when we produce clean water the use of energy is really important,” she added.
The BIRD Energy partnership, administered by the US Department of Energy and the Israeli National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Ministry, began as a result of the US-Israel Cooperation in Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 and the Israeli government’s approval of the program in 2008.
It is part of the umbrella BIRD Foundation, and recently announced its sixth call for joint projects between Israeli and US companies – this time with an additional focus on the energy-water nexus.
The maximum conditional grant for a BIRD Energy project is $1 million, and involves research and development cooperation between two companies, or a company and a university or research institution.
Previously, projects have focused mostly on solar power, alternative fuels, advanced vehicle technologies, smart grid, wind energy and other renewable technologies.
BIRD Energy revealed its fifth-round winners in January, during which the foundation pledged $3.6m. in direct funding to the projects, which then have the ability to leverage futher private-sector investment for a total project value of $8.8m. Since its inception, BIRD Energy has approved 17 such projects.
“The program after five years has shown clear benefits; it brings mutual benefits for both sides,” Nakar-Vincent said. “You can see the evolvement of the Israeli companies that have participated in the program – they are doing very well and they are growing.”
The added focus on the water-energy nexus is particularly critical, according to Nakar-Vincent, because of the enormous costs associated with producing clean water through methods such as desalination. Research that aims to minimize energy usage and resultant costs is therefore becoming more and more attractive, she explained.
“What we want to let American and Israel companies know is that we are very interested in funding these type of projects,” Nakar-Vincent said.
US Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) recently presented a white paper in the Senate on the importance of progressing with researching combining the two, Nakar-Vincent pointed out. The “Water-Energy Nexus” white paper, published in May, showed that interlinking these resources is “vital for economic growth and sustainability.”
As far as future BIRD Energy projects are concerned – be they about the water-energy nexus or other topics – Nakar-Vincent said that the foundation is open to highrisk projects with promising, early-stage technologies. She also expressed hope that some future projects may be related to the topic of natural gas, though this area has yet to receive approval because does not qualify as renewable energy.
“We are here to share risk with the companies,” she said.
The BIRD Foundation was established in 1977 by the US and Israeli governments to develop and fund industrial research and development partnerships among companies from both countries. To date, BIRD has provided $308m. in grants for 878 projects, and generates its funding income from repayments by successful projects, as well as interest earned on endowment grants.
BIRD funds up to 50% of each company’s research and development expenses, and claims repayments as royalties only if commercial revenues are generated from the project.
Repayments can reach up to 150% of the original conditional grant. BIRD has accumulated $98m. in repayments from projects and about $10 billion in sales generated directly and indirectly by foundation- sponsored activities.