Cooperation between the United States and Israel in developing alternatives to Middle Eastern oil is now closer than ever, according to leaders of a not-for-profit called The Israel Energy Partnership.
Between April 17 and 24, the group introduced a dozen Israeli experts in renewable energy with “practically every important person involved with alternative fuels in the United States,” said Neil Goldstein, TIEP’s executive vice president and CEO.
Together with Dennis Klein, a North Caldwell insurance executive, and Jack Halpern, a New Jersey real estate developer, Goldstein developed the partnership three years ago when the three men served as officers of the now-defunct American Jewish Congress.
Klein is also a former member of the NJJN board. His interest in alternatives was sparked 15 years ago when he attended a meeting at the United Nations.
“I realized energy is a Jewish issue,” he said in an April 29 phone interview
The Israeli delegation came from private industry as well as the academic worlds of the Technion and the Weizmann Institute of Science.
“People met each other, made scientific presentations, and developed possibilities for one-to-one collaborations on many projects,” Goldstein said of the meetings in DC. “It was very intense.”
At the White House, the Israeli experts met with the Obama administration’s sciences advisers as well as Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and his deputies. Their aim was to secure American help building collaborations.
With aid from the administration, the Israelis made contact with American colleagues at BioEnergy Research Center at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, where they also were joined by officials from Los Alamos National Laboratory.
“Their response was very good,” said Goldstein. “This project could not possibly have happened without White House support.”
The Israeli scientists went on to Berkeley, Calif., where they took part in technical discussions at the Department of Energy’s Joint BioEnergy Institute. They also visited several private laboratories where alternative fuel technologies are being developed.
“We did a sort of ‘speed dating’ at one bioenergy center, where the Israelis sat at a table and the American scientists came to them individually in an ordered way,” said Goldstein.
The Israelis are exploring energy from ethanol, natural gas, and biofuels from plants and algae.
After meeting with some 50 researchers in the United States, the Israeli scientists “brought back the potential for lots of one-to-one collaborations on individual projects,” Goldstein said. “The Israelis now have a much greater understanding of American scientific capabilities and cutting-edge research issues that Israel needs to address.”
But they also learned the benefits of collaboration.
“They concluded that Israel has to do more internally to collaborate among its universities and industries,” he said.
Goldstein and his colleagues expect other nations to join the partnership, but not immediately.
“We see this first as a partnership between the United States and Israel,” he said. “Several European countries are doing work on biofuel, and collaborations go on all the time. But we first have to get our own act together between the U.S. and Israel.”
According to Halpern, who headed the Energy Independence Task Force as executive vice president of AJCongress, Israel’s growing success in alternative energy development is essential to its security and foreign policy, and presents a challenge to its oil-rich neighbors.
“The Saudis and the Iranians are in trouble long-term,” Goldstein told NJJN. “We have to deal with the nuclear threat from Iran right now, but once that is taken care of, there is a very bright future. Israel’s enemies will be getting weaker as it is getting stronger. The market for oil will decline over time.”
The Energy Project has a three-year plan for developing the United States-Israel collaboration.
“We think it will take that long to go through the legal and institutional analysis and the building of resources to make a collaborative mechanism. It is not easy. You have to bring scientists and institutions together, and you have to build consensus,” Goldstein said. “You can’t foist this on people. They have to buy in and think it is in their interest.”