Tel Aviv University Launches R&D Institute Focused on Alternative Fuels

New academic and applicative institute will also house cherry-picked startups.

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Despite solar energy farms like this one at Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava, current use of renewable enrgy sources in Israel in minimal.
Solar energy farms like this one at Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava may ultimately not be linked to the national electricity grid. Credit: Albatross Aerial Photography
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

With peak oil possibly behind us and no particularly wonderful news on its replacement in human transportation, fresh thought is clearly needed. On Wednesday Tel Aviv University announced the establishment of a new institute to focus on this very issue.

Together with the National Program for the Development of Alternative Fuels in Transportation, the university is forming an institute to pursue R&D on alternative energies and transportation. Fittingly, the institute will be run jointly by TAU’s Porter School of Environmental Studies and its Engineering faculty.

In keeping with the vision of the Porter school, the entire approach will be multi-disciplinary. The hope is to forge collaborations with researchers from around Israel and abroad: Negotiations are already under way with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Tsinghua University of Beijing.

The goal: to develop innovative models for transportation and boost awareness of the problems in government circles as well as among the general public. The institute also intends to foster entrepreneurial ideas – early-stage startups in transportation solutions, which will be chosen through a competitive process and will be able to house their baby businesses in Porter’s new building. (Construction of the new “environmental building” is all but completed and the school hopes to use it in the approaching academic year).

Eyal Rosner, chairman of the alternative fuels program at the Prime Minister’s Office set up in 2011, commented that the world is starting to acknowledge the crying need for alternatives to oil and also to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, not to mention the smog. The world wants solutions: This is Israel’s answer to try to find them.

The program Rosner runs has received a handsome budget of 1.5 billion shekels over a decade, attesting to the keenness of Israel’s desire for itself – and the world – to move beyond oil dependence. It has long been an open concern that some of the biggest oil suppliers on the planet are enemies of Israel. The purpose of his division, Rosner explains, is to turn Israel into a “center of knowhow and industry” for the world regarding alternative energies.

Meanwhile, it seems that general science is less sanguine about the possibility of a cleaner life. Last month Science News ran a feature counseling searchers for extra-terrestrial life to look not for telltale anomalous radio signals or little green men in rockets, but smog. “Astronomers may want to focus on extraterrestrials that aren’t too green,” wrote Christopher Crockett, “assuming, of course, that pollution is a hallmark of intelligence.”

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