Seeking to reduce oil dependence, Netanyahu awards cash prize to solar-power innovators

Swiss, American duo developing cheap and efficient processes based on solar cells receive $1 m. prize from PM.

Solar panels (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Solar panels
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is awarding a $1 million prize to a Swiss-American research duo for their breakthrough work in converting solar energy into electricity capable of powering transportation.
Prof. Michael Grätzel of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland and Prof. Thomas Meyer of the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill are the 2014 winners of the Eric and Sheila Samson Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation in Alternative Fuels for Transportation, the Prime Minister’s Office announced on Monday morning.
Grätzel and Meyer are developing cheap and efficient processes based solar cells that convert solar energy into electricity, which can be used for vehicle propulsion, the Prime Minister’s Office explained.
The cells are able to split water into hydrogen and oxygen – a critical step in the generation of solar-based fuels, whose only emissions are water.
“We are making a major multi-year effort so that we will not be dependent on fluctuations in the price of oil,” Netanyahu said. “This prize gives the researchers true appreciation for their efforts.”
At Lausanne, Grätzel directs the laboratory of photonics and interfaces and pioneered the use of mesoscopic (between microscopic and macroscopic) materials in energy conversion systems, particularly in photovoltaic cells, lithium-ion batteries and photo-electrochemical devices for the splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen using sunlight, according to his laboratory.
In 1988, Grätzel co-invented today’s dye-sensitized solar cells, which became known as Grätzel cells. The recipient of many international prizes, he has published more than 900 scientific articles.
Meyer, meanwhile, is the Arey Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, where he works on solar energy conversion, artificial photosynthesis and the splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen and the reduction of carbon dioxide to hydrocarbons for solar fuel generation, among other areas of expertise. Meyer is a member of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States and is likewise the recipient of many prizes.
“This prize symbolizes the State of Israel’s commitment to the advancement of the field of alternative fuels, which is of utmost importance to every aspect of our lives here – to Israel’s economy, security, scientific research and society,” said Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri.
This is the second year that Netanyahu has awarded such a prize, which is jointly administered by the Science, Technology and Space Ministry, in conjunction with United Israel Appeal. The prime minister established the contest in 2013 following the government’s decision in 2011 to create a National Program to Reduce Global Dependence on Oil, with a goal of encouraging international breakthroughs in transportation fuel alternatives.
Last year’s prize winners were University of Southern California Profs. George A. Olah and G.K. Surya Prakash, for their work on developing a methanol-based economy.
A committee of international experts submitted its recommendation of this year’s winners to a board of trustees headed by Prof. Yitzhak Apeloig, former president of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
The work of this year’s award winners, Grätzel and Meyer, has the potential to bring “humanity one step closer to the moment it can use the available and unlimited energy of the sun for transportation and other needs,” Apeloig said.
In addition to Apeloig, board of trustee members for the prize included Nobel Laureate Prof. Aaron Ciechanover, National Economic Council chairman Prof. Eugene Kandel, Science, Technology and Space Ministry chief scientist Prof. Nurit Yirmiya and United Israel Appeal chairman Eliezer Sandberg.
Grätzel and Meyer are to receive their prize at a December 3 ceremony at an international conference to promote oil alternatives, headed by Eyal Rosner, director of the Alternative Fuels Administration at the Prime Minister’s Office.
“Israel has set itself an ambitious goal – to reduce the use of conventional fuel for transportation by 60 percent by the year 2025,” Rosner said.
“In order to reach this goal, it will need to use innovation, creativity and of no less importance: A strong, intelligent policy. Israel is prepared to become the global leader in this field; we must reduce our dependence on fuel and the dependence on oil-producing nations; and consequently, we will strengthen the world economy.”