Israel: The winners of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation In Alternative Fuels for Transportation are announced – The $1 million prize is the largest awarded in this field

Pr Michael Grätzel et Pr Thomas Meyer Pr Michael Grätzel et Pr Thomas Meyer

On October 6th, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri announced the winners of the Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation in Alternative Fuels for Transportation:  Professor Michael Grätzel from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne and Professor Thomas Meyer of the University of North Carolina in the U.S.  Both of these distinguished professors have been awarded the prestigious prize for technological developments that have the potential of serving as an alternative fuel for transportation.  This is the second time this prize has been awarded by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Space and Keren Hayesod.

The Eric and Sheila Samson Prize, totaling $ one million, is the world’s largest monetary prize awarded in the field of alternative fuels and is granted to scientists who have made critical advancements.  The winners were selected from a long list of worthy candidates recommended for the prize by university presidents and CEOs in industry, from Israel and around the world.  The winners were selected by a committee of international experts who submitted their recommendation to a board of trustees, headed by former Technion President Professor Yitzchak Apeloig.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “We are making a major multi-year effort so that we will not be dependent on fluctuations in the price of oil. This prize gives the researchers true appreciation for their efforts.”

During the announcement, Science, Technology and Space Minister Peri said:  “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.”

The prestigious Samson-Prime Minister’s Prize will be awarded to the two winners for their groundbreaking research in the development of effective and inexpensive solar cell-based methods for converting solar energy into electric energy used for electric propulsion in the field of transportation.  These cells also serve to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, a critical stage in the development of solar based fuels for transportation.  Hydrogen based fuel is environmentally friendly because when it is burned, the only emission it produces is water vapor.

The first recipient – Professor Michael Grätzel, is the director of the photonics laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne.  As part of his research, he has developed a new type of solar cell called the Grätzel Cell.  This cell is based on dye-sensitive particles that imitate the photosynthesis process and convert light energy into electric energy that can be used directly for electrical propulsion or to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, which can be used in fuels for transportation.  These cells are attributed the highest efficiency in the utilization of solar energy and their production is much more inexpensive than regular solar cells.

Professor Grätzel has published more than 900 scientific articles and he is one of the ten most quoted chemists in the world.  Among the prizes he has been awarded are:  the European Prize for Innovation and Technology, the Leonardo de Vinci Prize of the European Academy of Sciences, the Millennium 2000 Prize for Technological Innovation and the Technion’s Harvey Prize.  He was also selected by Scientific American magazine as one of the world’s fifty leading researchers.

The second recipient is Professor Thomas Meyer, of the University of South Carolina and director of the UNC Energy Frontier Research Center in Solar Fuels and Next Generation Photovoltaics.  He is a leader and pioneer in the fields of artificial photosynthesis and the development of solar fuels based on the splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen. His groundbreaking studies have led to greater understanding of the transfer of electrons through exposure to sunlight – a central process in converting solar energy into electricity.  Meyer’s extensive comprehensive research has made a critical contribution to the technological development of cells for ‘artificial photosynthesis’.

Professor Meyer is a member of the American National Academy of Sciences and he has been awarded many important prizes.

Professor Yitzchak Apeloig, Chairman of the Board of Trustees that selected the prize winners stated:  “The basic scientific discoveries and the technological developments of the prize recipients have helped humanity advance one step closer to the moment in which it can use available and unlimited solar energy for transportation and other needs and it can stop using diminishing and polluting fossil fuels.”

The Board of Trustees that reviewed the recommendations for the prize and selected the winners included, Prof. Eugene Kandel; Chief Scientist at the Ministry of Science, Technology and Space, Prof. Nurit Yirmiya; Chairman of Keren Hayesod, Modi Zandberg and a representative of the donor’s family.

The prize will be presented to the winners on December 3rd of this year, as part of the ‘Fuel Choices Summit’, an international conference for fuel alternatives, which is being promoted by the Fuel Choices Initiative at Israel’s Prime Minister’s Office, spearheaded by Eyal Rosner and Keren Hayesod.  The Summit, in its second year, will bring together government officials from around the world, international experts and senior investors. The Summit aims to create a forum for discussion of international policy in the field of alternative fuels and to position Israel as a leading center of industry and knowledge.

National Fuel Alternatives Program Director, Eyal Rosner:  “Israel has set itself an ambitious goal – to reduce the use of conventional fuel for transportation by 60% by the year 2025.  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.”

Find this article in Israël Science Info n° 15

Israël Science Info