Promoting renewable energy
How have you come to work at Bar-Ilan University?
I’ve liked chemistry since high school — it felt like the basic science you can build upon and practice in the industry very easily. I pursued my first degree in the field at Bar-Ilan University, and I continued to do a master’s and PhD in the area of polymer science. I later worked for a few years in a lab that specializes in spectroscopy, and this is where I started getting involved in the energy area, in fields like batteries and hydrogen fuel cells. The work in the energy field and with the industry attracted me. So, when Bar-Ilan University thought of starting the new Center for Energy and Sustainability, I really wanted to be a part of it.
What was the vision behind the new center?
We felt that, in many ways, the country’s interfaces between industry and academy were weak. We wanted to make the knowledge in the academic world much more accessible to the industry world, which is going through significant energy changes, switching to renewable solutions and reducing carbon emissions. We believe academia can help companies through these transitions – the main goal of the Energy and Sustainability Center is to do just that.
There are a few sub-projects on top of this. We’ll soon start the School for Sustainability, hopefully next year; people from the geography, regulation, chemistry and engineering departments are all working together to build this very important program, which we think is going to be very successful. It’ll offer lectures and workshops, which will also be open to working professionals. We’re also planning a boot camp for this year to encourage initiatives in this area, bringing high-school students here to learn about some of our projects. We hope they’ll later come and work on the changes that the world is going through with us. We’re trying to touch everyone.
How do you strengthen the ties between academia and industry, in practice?
t can happen in various different ways, and we find a way to work with everyone in the manner they see fit. Companies come to us, we show them around some of the labs and tell them about our vision, and they may want to join us.
Some companies bring us their challenges and work with our professors to find solutions; some use our experts for consultations; some choose projects to fund, often owning some of the rights. Other companies don’t want to work on challenges at all – they just have the interest and means to support our initiatives.
What are some examples of projects the center has been working on?
We have two professors working together to develop sodium batteries, which are the next generation of large energy storage. Another project is looking at whether growing potatoes under solar panels – which is happening on campus – harms the amount or quality of the product. If a company wants to invest in a small renewable energy organization, they might come to our experts for advice, too.
Is there a way for students to get involved?
We have lots of labs, it depends on the interest. Master’s and PhD students can get accepted to chemistry, physics or engineering, whatever they’re interested in, and then they can work with us. However, the Sustainability School is not for research and it doesn’t offer the opportunity to do a thesis.
Why do you think it’s important for students to have the opportunity to get involved with and learn from these projects?
As a student, I never had the chance to experience the industrial world, and I felt I was really missing out on something. Even though I worked on interesting projects, I felt I needed to develop a product that someone would actually be willing to buy, a product that could be implemented in the real world.
That’s what I get to see now. I see challenges solved, I see the straightforward progression of an idea, I see us walk towards the future. Sometimes, with research, it seems like you’re aiming too far away, like you’ll only see your findings implemented in decades. Hubs like the new center shorten the gap.
What’s in store for the future of the center?
I think if you speak to me in a year from now, you’ll hear about many more projects. And that’s what I like about it. Every month, we have new ideas, and we just wish we had longer days to get everything done. I’m absolutely certain you’re going to see a whole different center, much bigger, in the future. The potential is endless.