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Israeli chemist awarded $1 million prize

An Israeli chemistry researcher and a Finnish chemical engineer are the winners of this year’s Eric and Sheila Samson Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation in Alternative Fuels. The $1 million award, presented in Tel Aviv on Monday, is the world’s largest in the field. The winners are Doron Aurbach, a professor of chemistry at Bar Ilan University in Israel, and Dr. Lars Peter Lindfors, a senior VP of Technology at Neste Oyj, an oil refining and engineering services company in Espoo, Finland.

This is the first time an Israeli researcher has won the award, which has been handed out for six consecutive years, Israel’s Ministry of Science and Technology said in a statement. The award is given out each year by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Science and Technology, and Keren Hayesod, the United Israel Appeal.

The winners were chosen “from a long list of worthy candidates” who were recommended for the prize by university presidents and industry heads in Israel and from around the world, a statement by the Smart Mobility 2018 Summit, which hosts the competition said. The winners were selected by a committee of international experts, who submit their recommendations to a board of trustees headed by former Technion – Israel Institute of Technology president Prof. Yitzhak Apeloig.

Aurbach received a prize for his “pioneering contribution to the development of new batteries, including an innovative magnesium-based battery,” the statement said. His research has “a great potential for developing innovative batteries to propel electric cars” and thus become a substitute for fossil fuel. Aurbach has also made “important contributions to the basic research of batteries,” the statement said.

Lindfors and his team at Neste have developed new ways to make bio-diesel fuel from organic waste materials, such as animal oils and used cooking oils. Based on these processes,  Neste produces “millions of tons a year” of bio-diesel fuel, used to propel trucks and ships, the ministry’s statement said. “These could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90% and thus contribute to the fight against global warming.”

“Israel has set an ambitious goal — to reduce the use of fossil fuel for transportation by 60% by 2025,” said Anat Bonshtein, the director of the Fuel Choices and Smart Mobility initiative, which is part of the Prime Minister’s Office, in the statement. “To achieve this goal, innovation and creativity are needed, as well as smart and strong policies. Israel is preparing to lead this field globally, to reduce dependence on oil and on the oil producing countries, thereby strengthening the world economy. ”

The Smart Mobility 2018 Summit, held this week in Tel Aviv for the sixth year, tackles transportation and advances in mobility and is attended by entrepreneurs, investors and global corporations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who addressed the summit’s gala event Monday night at which the awards were presented, said that the car industry globally is changing, and very soon 85% of the cost of cars will be made up of software and its derivatives. That means that cars are basically becoming “a computer on wheels,” which enables Israel to be competitive in the automotive field, from which it has been traditionally sidelined.

“We have about 500 startups that deal in autonomous vehicles and related technologies” and Israel has become “one of the two or three great centers of this new technology in the world because it’s all about big data, connectivity and AI and the nexus of the three,” Netanyahu said, according to an emailed statement.

Shoshanna Solomon