from the March 2011 issue

From solar to wind energy - Israel is open to ideas

The impressive performance by Israeli companies at the Cleantech Open IDEAS competition confirms the country as a place where people are open to new ideas and thinking outside the box.

The Wind Tulip, fashioned like an environmental sculpture, is designed so that people will feel comfortable living next to a high-efficiency, clean-energy solution.

The Wind Tulip, fashioned like an environmental sculpture, is designed so that people will feel comfortable living next to a high-efficiency, clean-energy solution.

Israeli startups Solaris Synergy and Leviathan Energy cleaned up at the Israel national Cleantech Open IDEAS competition. Held in November at Tel Aviv University's Akirov Institute for Business and Environment, the event was a feature of Global Entrepreneurship Week.

Solaris took first prize and Leviathan captured both second and third place for its innovations in solar and wind energy, respectively. Solaris went on to rank fourth in a field of national winners from 20 countries at Cleantech Open IDEAS, an international competition intended as a launching pad for novel approaches to worldwide energy, environmental and economic challenges.

In its quest to make solar energy practical and affordable, the Solaris system overcomes two major hurdles: The large tracts of land needed for solar farms and the expense of the silicon material that converts light to electricity.

Yossi Fisher at the company's prototype Floating Concentrating Photovoltaic (F-CPV) system.

Solaris' Floating Concentrating Photovoltaic (F-CPV) system sits on water rather than on land. There is a huge amount of inland water in the world, and many confined bodies of water are located in areas with excellent solar insulation, says Fisher. The system works best in areas of strong sunlight, such as Africa, Asia, Australia, Mediterranean countries and South, Central and southern North America.

Constructed of lightweight plastic and fiberglass, the Lego-like modules fit together in grids configured to fit the shape of the host body of water - be it fresh-, salt- or wastewater. This solar-on-water platform doubles as a breathable reservoir cover that significantly reduces evaporation and eliminates harmful organic and algae growth. Each grid can generate 200 kilowatts of power.

The modules are faced with a curved mirrored film that clusters the sunlight into a thin line. Since only that five percent of the surface needs a silicon cover, Solaris uses relatively little of the costly material, explains co-founder and CEO Yossi Fisher. This has an added environmental benefit since silicon production releases contaminants into the air.

Because there is no friction between the grids and the water, it only takes one small engine to slowly rotate the grids to keep the light focused on the line of silicon material.

Israeli 2010 Cleantech Open Winner - Solaris Synergy
Showing a visitor the prototype on the roof of Solaris headquarters at Har Hotzvim Industrial Park in Jerusalem, Fisher explains that the rotation is based on a sophisticated sun-tracking algorithm programmed into a remote controller.

The controller also moderates the direction of the rotation and the speed of the engine. A central server receives data over a cellular line from the controller via an antenna, allowing the technical crew to keep a watchful eye on how the system is functioning.

Since the mirrors generate a lot of heat, and silicon converts light into energy more efficiently at cooler temperatures, Solaris developed a patented technology that uses the water underneath the grids to keep the silicon cooler than on conventional solar panels. We have the only cold silicon in the world and we are generating energy more than 20% more efficiently because of this, Fisher says.

The two-year-old company has a working prototype and is due to install a pilot project in 2011 under the auspices of Mekorot, Israel's water authority. Floating Solaris grids on top of Israel's more than 400 recycled wastewater reservoirs would enable the country to realize its goal of generating 10-20 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, Fisher says.

A second pilot installation is planned at a reservoir near Marseilles in cooperation with France's electric company, partially funded by the joint Israel-European R&D project Eureka.

Fisher hopes to be bought out eventually by a major energy firm. By definition, that will mean a company outside Israel. In Israel, we have good industrial infrastructure, brilliant people and a government that supports businesses in the R&D stages, he says. But when you pass the R&D phase you must pair with a corporate giant to be successful, and unfortunately there are few such giants in Israel.

Velocity is where the money is in terms of wind, says Dr. Daniel Farb, who accepted the prizes for both second and third place on behalf of Leviathan Energy. If wind going one meter per second can power one light bulb, then wind going two meters per second can power eight light bulbs.

Farb utilizes principles from computational fluid dynamics to fashion a large Wind Energizer - an airfoil structure directing wind flow to the critical area of large wind turbine blades, increasing the velocity of the wind at the point at which it hits the blades. The result is a boost in output of 20 to 40%.

There is no faster way in the world to increase the supply of renewable energy than to add [the Wind Energizer] to the 200,000 turbines already connected to the grid, he told the scientists, academicians and venture capitalists during his Cleantech IDEAS presentation.

The second winning project is the Wind Tulip, a small vertically rotating wind turbine for rooftop use that is quieter and more efficient than rooftop turbines currently in use. Integration of power from the rooftops of buildings is a major need in the world as a renewable energy with zero footprint on the earth, he says. The Wind Tulip is aesthetically pleasing and presents no danger to people or birds.

Wind tulip in Jerusalem
Both products will be cost-effective and simple to install, he says, based on studies done on prototypes at the company's demonstration wind farm at Rotem Industrial Park in Dimona. Now the challenge is to find funding to prove their effectiveness on a larger scale and commercialize them for the greater market.

Farb estimates that Leviathan needs about $3.5 million to go into mass production for the Wind Tulip, and about $1 million to implement and certify the Wind Energizer on a large scale. Inquiries have come from countries including Italy and Chile. Another company in the Leviathan group holds the patent for a hydroelectric turbine that operates in piping systems.

Doing business in Israel gives this recent immigrant from Los Angeles access to lots of different people and skill sets, says Farb.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report March 2011

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