Israel and US partner in alternative energy research

AJC’s Danny Grossman: Our vision of the world is where the oil bargaining chip would have a lesser value.US President George W. Bush signed into law this week a bill that will grant millions of dollars in funds for joint …

AJC’s Danny Grossman: Our vision of the world is where the oil bargaining chip would have a lesser value.US President George W. Bush signed into law this week a bill that will grant millions of dollars in funds for joint US-Israeli research into alternative energy.

The bill, passed overwhelmingly in both the House and the Senate, will provide opportunities for joint research and development projects involving renewable and alternative energy and energy efficiency. The law also requires greater fuel efficiency in automobiles and promotes ethanol production.

But according to the American Jewish Congress, which has been involved in promoting the bill for the last four and half years, the real goal of the US-Israel Energy Cooperation Act (USIECA) is to reduce American and world dependence on foreign oil, and the amount of oil profits that end up in the hands of countries hostile to the US and Israel.

“Our focus is from a strategic point of view,” the AJC’s Israel director Danny Grossman told ISRAEL21c. “Now it’s sexy to talk about the environment and Al Gore and global warming. This idea comes from another motivation – get the oil dependency monkey off our back.

“Our vision of the world is where the oil bargaining chip would have a lesser value. It’s not just a clean, green issue, although that’s very important. But for us, it’s a strategic security issue, for Israel and the United States.”

The bill’s original wording earmarked $20 million a year in grants, but the legislation ended up passing without a funding target. AJC executive director Neil Goldstein of the grant program, said he hoped as much as $30m. would be allocated for the grants in 2009, the first year grants will be available.

The USIECA was introduced as a separate bill by a bipartisan coalition led in the House by Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) and John Shadegg (R-AZ) and in the Senate by Chairman Bingaman (D-NM) and Gordon Smith (R-OR). According to Grossman, the conceptual need for the bill was an outgrowth of discussions between Israeli and US scientists, engineers, academicians and business leaders at an AJC-sponsored conference in Jerusalem in August 2003, which was co-hosted by the Israel Ministry for National Infrastructures and by the US Department of Energy.

Grossman said that despite Israel’s relatively unremarkable standing in alternative energy R&D, the American-Israeli partnership makes perfect sense.

“If you look at major countries in the world which do R&D in energy development, Israel wouldn’t be among the leaders. But, if you look at countries facing severe security problems and coming up with quick solutions, Israel is at the top of the list.” he said.

“Look at the Arrow missile. The world has been trying to come up with a solution to ballistic missiles since the Cold War. And within 10 years of beginning development, Israeli-US collaboration has led to the Arrow missile system. It reflects on the capability of our R&D community. You match that with American technical know how and their financial muscle, and it’s a match made in heaven.”

The AJC’s executive director Neil B. Goldstein added that just as US-Israel collaboration has also led to breakthroughs in the development of mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPs, to protect US soldiers in Iraq, the USIECA will enable collaborations in energy technology.

“Israeli skills in solar energy can help produce hydrogen fuel; their skills in biotechnology can improve the conversion of cellulosic waste into ethanol and methanol; and their skills in chemistry, engineering and nanotechnology can improve the efficiency of fuel cells − to name just a few of the areas where Israeli scientists and engineers excel,” he said.

USIECA establishes a multi-year program of grants for joint projects at the basic research level between US and Israeli academic institutions, and at the applied research and development level between US and Israeli companies.

According to Grossman, the program will be administered by the US Department of Energy which will appropriate funds to Israeli organizations to filter down to specific projects.

“We already have a proven track record with many organizations like the BIRD Foundation (the Israel-US Binational Industrial Research and Development),” he said.


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