Among the Israeli research that’s cited in support of the bill is the development of a technique that vastly increases the efficiency of using solar energy to generate hydrogen for use in energy cells.An ISRAEL21c series
The Israeli Energy Alternative

If the United States is serious about energy independence, it has to reach beyond its borders and recruit the help of the world’s top scientists in the field of alternative energy. That opinion by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) was partially the impetus for the United States-Israel Energy Cooperation Act – a springboard for scientific research that may help the US reach its strategic goal.

In July, the bill, co-sponsored by Sherman, and carrying bipartisan support and the weight of 100 co-sponsors, passed easily through the House of Representatives by a voice vote. It has now moved to the Senate, where it is expected to roll on a fast track to ratification.

Why is Congress so bullish on this bill and why does the US so readily turn to another country – Israel – for research that is so fundamental to America’s long term security? According to Sherman, first and foremost, the US needs Israel’s help.

“There is nothing we can do that is more important than weaning the United States and the world off its dependence of petroleum. And the first step is research, and an important part of that research is cooperative research with other countries similarly dedicated to finding alternative energy,” noted Sherman, adding “There is perhaps no better partner than Israel.”

In his State of the Union Address in February, US President George Bush called special attention to America’s historic dependence on foreign petroleum. “America is addicted to oil,” Bush said, and vowed to push the US towards energy independence. And later, in May, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed solidarity with the US leader and lauded the cooperation act.

In support of the bill, several speakers on the House Floor made allusions to Israeli scientific expertise in the field of alternative energies. The bill itself cites three examples of breakthroughs made by Israeli scientists and researchers in this niche:

– The development of a cathode that uses hexavalent iron salts that accept three electrons per ion and enable rechargeable batteries to provide three times as much electricity as existing rechargeable batteries;

– The development of a technique that vastly increases the efficiency of using solar energy to generate hydrogen for use in energy cells;

– The development of a novel membrane used in new and powerful direct-oxidant fuel cells that is capable of competing favorably with hydrogen fuel cells and traditional internal combustion engines.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s Minister of Economic Affairs in the US told ISRAEL21c that he compared the current race towards American energy independence to its race towards nuclear technology at the end of World War II.

“If [you] were looking to create “The Manhattan Project” of alternative energy, then certainly… one country [you] would want at that table would be Israel,” Dermer said.

Under the terms of the bill, the United States Department of Energy is authorized to invest up to $20 million annually through 2012 in joint energy projects between American and Israeli businesses, scientists and academics. Eligible products include research, development and commercialization of alternative energy sources, improved energy efficiency and renewable energy sources.

The bill has a payback provision that ensures that the American taxpayer would be reimbursed for the grants issued under the Act through profits earned from innovations emerging from the research.

“What that means is that if a successful project is developed as a result of these funds and if an energy source is found, according to rules provided by the Secretary of Energy, the Treasury of the United States will be repaid in proportion to the Federal Government’s investment in the research involved or in the project which created this new energy,” said Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ), sponsor of the bill

“This bill is an absolute win for everybody,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY).

Dermer said that Israel’s reputation for quality science and research has often been described in terms of statistics and figures, which sometimes obscure the real significance.

“All these statistics of all the scientists per capita and engineers per capita and [the vast amount of] R&D that is done in Israel… The question you have to ask yourself is: What does all that mean?” Dermer asked rhetorically.

“It means that we have the most dynamic, entrepreneurial workforce on the planet.”

The roots of the Cooperation Act bill can be traced back to a conference in 2003 sponsored by the American Jewish Congress and the US Department of Energy. The conference, themed “Cooperation for Energy Independence of Democracies in the 21st Century,” was held in Jerusalem with the participation of 170 attendees from 140 institutions and six countries.

“What developed at the conference was the concept of designing a permanent pipeline for [energy research] cooperation between the United States and Israel,” Neil B. Goldstein, AJC executive director, told ISRAEL21c.

“When we returned to the United States from this conference, I and my staff sat down and drafted some talking points of specific principles that we wanted to see included in any such legislation. We took these very specific principles and… our Washington office approached a member of Congress to see if these could then be implemented in the form of specific legislation.”

Goldstein said that now that the bill has passed through the House, it is on a fast track for ratification in the Senate and eventual approval from the White House.

“We have been informed informally that there will be hearings of the bill in the fall and that we will be asked to testify,” Goldstein said. “Our expectation? is that [the bill] will be reported favorably with some amendments. We have also been informed by [Senate Majority Leader William] Frist that he favors passage of this bill in this session of Congress and that they are pushing very hard to see that. My expectation is that the bill… will be [passed by the] full Senate… and that the president will then sign it into law shortly thereafter.”

On its website, the AJC defines itself as “an association of Jewish Americans, whose members have organized to defend against threats to Jewish interests at home and abroad through vigorous public policy advocacy, in the courts, Congress, the executive branch and local legislatures.”

Energy independence has been one of the AJC’s core issues in recent years, a natural turn of events according to Goldstein.

“There is no issue that is more important to Israel and to the Jewish community than energy,” Goldstein said.

“This is an issue that every dollar that is spent on imported oil is a dollar potentially that can go to the enemies of the United States and Israel and as good Americans and as good Jews we are concerned about that.

“We are concerned that petrodollars are finding their way directly into the hands of terrorists. And some money is in the hands of people like President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran who wants to destroy Israel and, by the way, wants to [also] destroy the United States.”