TAU professor to discuss generating electricity from bacteria

Tel Aviv University mechanical engineering professor Abraham Kribus will report the encouraging results of his efforts to produce electricity from proteins found in bacteria at the university's international conference on renewable energy to be held on Tuesday night and Wednesday. Former US vice president Al Gore will be the keynote speaker on Tuesday night. On Monday night, he will receive the Dan David Prize for 2008 for his environmental efforts. Kribus found that a certain protein in bacteria generated electricity through photosynthesis. With a bit of genetic engineering, he discovered when the proteins were spread on a surface and attached to electrodes, they generated electricity. From a practical perspective, the cost of the protein was about 1 percent of silicon, the main ingredient in photovoltaic solar panels, according to Kribus. "The essential problem today with solar energy - which also holds up and hinders its market penetration - is that we are talking about a conversion and generation process which is expensive," Kribus said, "Solar energy is [currently] four times more expensive than gasoline-generated electricity." Kribus hopes his discovery will eventually provide a cheaper alternative. Kribus has also been trying to make solar panels more efficient. According to him, solar panels are just 30% efficient in producing electricity. While attempting to use more of the panel to produce electricity would be inefficient, they could be dual-tasked to produce heat as well, thereby raising efficiency to 80%, he said. Large inhabited structures such as malls, office towers, hotels and hospitals expend 60% of their energy costs on climate control, according to Kribus. Maximizing solar panels' efficiency to produce heat could reduce these energy costs. Kribus will set up an industrial prototype on the roof of the Di.S.P Company's offices in Yokne'am at the beginning of the summer. Ten units will generate two kilowatts of electricity and five kilowatts of heat. He will elaborate on his design at the conference on Wednesday. Also, TAU's Dr. Avraham Seifert will discuss his team's invention of a system to reduce drag on airplanes and trucks by generating air whirlpools. Reducing drag is potentially quite lucrative as it causes fuel usage to drop. Other international experts will also be presenting projects at the conference before the public and VIP guests President Shimon Peres, National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra. The latter two will also be part of a panel on Israel's Road to Energy Independence - long-term political aspects, issues of national security and economic implications.