Oil prices are low now, but there’s no guarantee they will remain that way. In the long term, developing alternative fuels remains a priority of governments, start-ups — and automobile manufacturers, who sell more vehicles when the fuel that runs them is cheaper.
It’s to that end that the Israel Fuel Choices Initiative (IFCI), a project of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), this week signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), Iveco (a Brand of CNH Industrial) and Magneti Marelli (FCA Group) for cooperation in the development of natural-gas based technologies, developing fuels for cars, trucks and buses, based on gas.
Launched in 2011, IFCI seeks to make Israel a leader in alternative energies for transportation — including developing electrical, biofuel, hydrogen, natural gas, and other fuel solutions for vehicles. The group includes representatives of nine government ministries. And Eyal Rosner, chairman and director of IFCI, is a sort of “godfather,” coordinating the activities, the funding, and the development of technologies such as fuel cells, electric vehicles, hybrids, biodiesel-fueled vehicles, ethanol/methanol fuel, and even algae fuel.
While alternatives exist for electricity production — the government’s plan, which is currently behind schedule, is to have 10-20% of the country’s electricity produced from non-fossil fuel sources by 2020 — gasoline refined from oil has a near monopoly as a transportation fuel: 96% of the vehicles in the world are powered by gas engines. For many countries, oil for transportation takes a huge chunk of the national GDP (oil accounts for nearly 20% of Israel’s total imports), and oil in transportation is estimated to be the source of about 25% of greenhouse gases.
So there are good reasons for the world to be interested in alternative fuels — and IFCI seeks to make Israel a center of that effort. According to the group’s strategic plan, “we intend to make use of Israel’s strengths, including its interdisciplinary nature and Israeli entrepreneurs’ operational agility, as well as the research power and the exceptional cooperation between academic research bodies and industry” to turn the country into a world showplace of alternative fuel development and deployment.
According to the group, “In order to jump-start the development of solutions and to catalyze a global move toward alternative fuels, we are turning Israel into a test bed, which, together with the technological activity in the country, will attract partners from throughout the world. International cooperation is an important component of our activities. A global-scale problem requires global-scale collaboration to be overcome.”
And despite Israel’s previous foray into alternative fuel vehicles — the Better Place experiment fell apart, experts say, because the Israeli electric-vehicle company made a number of ill-advised marketing, manufacturing and management decisions — the world has not soured on Israeli technology for alternative fuels.
One good example is the Phinergy aluminum-air battery for electric vehicles, which solves a major problem of electric vehicles — the short range of travel provided by batteries before a recharge is needed. The Phinergy battery allows a threefold increase in travel range over a regular electric vehicle, and weighs much less than conventional batteries.
US President Barack Obama, on his 2013 visit to Israel, reviewed the Phinergy technology — and recommended that the company get in touch “with Ford or GM about this.”
In the new deal, IFCI will coordinate with Fiat Chrysler, Iveco, and Magneti Marelli to develop natural-gas based fuels. The sides are also discussing the possibility of establishing an extended R&D cooperation program involving Israeli companies in fields related to alternative fuels, smart mobility and other automotive-industry related activities. The organizations will discuss timetables and specifics in meetings over the coming months, as they negotiate a final deal.
According to IFCI, its new partners “are strongly committed to reducing the environmental impact of road transport and this is a key pillar of their highly ranked sustainability policies.”