US-Israel investment program aims for energy security

BIRD, which facilitates tech cooperation between Israeli and American firms, wants to ensure that the lights go on in both countries, no matter what

Dr. Eitan Yudelevich, executive director of the BIRD Foundation (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dr. Eitan Yudelevich, executive director of the BIRD Foundation (photo credit: Courtesy)

Don’t let low oil prices fool you: What goes down can go up, and that’s a good enough reason to include a healthy dose of alternative energies in the national policies of both the US and Israel, according to Eitan Yudelevich.

Yudelevich, the director of BIRD — the Israel-US Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation — is in a position to make that happen for both countries. Its BIRD Energy division is dedicated to funding projects that will help enhance the energy security of Israel and the United States, by partnering promising Israeli start-ups with established American companies. This will enable the sabra companies to enhance and perfect their technology and sell it on the US and world market, and bring it back home for further development.

To that end, the US Department of Energy and Israel’s Ministry of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources have selected five projects to receive $4 million in BIRD funding. Each of the projects involves a US and an Israeli partner, and each addresses energy challenges and opportunities of interest to both countries, while focusing on commercializing clean energy technologies that improve economic competitiveness, create jobs, and support innovative companies.

This is the sixth year for BIRD Energy which has, so far, approved 22 projects with a total investment of about $18 million (including the projects in this cycle). During its 37 years, the BIRD Foundation has invested in close to 900 projects, which have yielded direct and indirect revenues of about $10 billion.

The projects include the following:

  • Advanced MemTech of Ness Ziona, which is partnering with Arkema (King of Prussia, PA) to develop a carbon nanotube composite membrane that is electrically conductive.
  • Aquanos, located in Shoshanat Ha’amakim in northern Israel, is teaming up with Aquagen ISI (South Yarmouth, Massachusetts) to develop an algae-activated aerobic wastewater treatment technology.
  • Fridenson Logistics (Haifa) and ChargePoint (Campbell, California), will develop a smart-grid capable, cloud-connected electric vehicle charging station.
  • NewCO2Fuels (Rehovot) and Acumentrics (Westwood, Massachusetts), will collaborate on the development of enhanced performance solid oxide fuel cells.
  • Rehovot-based Silentium will work with GE Energy (Houston) on the development of active noise control for power generator ventilation.

While not all the Israeli firms work in the energy industry proper — Silentium, for example, is known for its noise-suppression technology — Yudelevich said that all the technologies could enhance energy efficiency and security.

“If Silentium’s technology can help GE build a quieter generator, which will appeal to more people and run more efficiently, that’s an important contribution.”

With Israel sitting atop trillions of cubic feet of natural gas and the US now the world’s largest oil producer, Yudevelich understands that fossil fuels reign — for the moment.

“Eventually those resources are going to run out, and even if they don’t, security demands that we have replacements that can take the place of fossil fuels in time of need,” said Yudelevich. “A sound energy security policy requires diversifying into different energy sources — both for electricity and fuel — and is always a good idea.”

The BIRD Foundation supports projects without receiving any equity or IP rights in the participating companies or in the project itself. The funding is repaid as royalties from sales. The foundation provides support of up to 50 percent of a project’s budget, beginning with R&D and ending with the initial stages of sales and marketing. BIRD shares the risk and does not require repayment if the project fails to reach the sales stage.

Commenting on the latest funding round, Yudelevich said that BIRD was “pleased to see a continuous flow of joint US-Israel innovation to further develop renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies. Projects awarded under the BIRD Energy partnership have already delivered new commercialized technologies, attracted follow investment, and contributed to job growth in both countries.”

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