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U.S.-Israeli team to develop new solar power technology

The Southern Shofar
BIRMINGHAM, Ala., March 12 (JTA) — A partnership of Israeli and United States companies is set to begin testing an innovative technology for the generation of electricity from solar power. McDonnell Douglas will work with three Israeli companies on developing a demonstration plant that can generate 300 to 400 kilowatts. The plant will be located at the Weizmann Institute of Science solar test facility in Israel. This technology has the “potential of wide international applications,” and can be sold as complete power stations to countries and companies, said Julie Osler, a spokeswoman for the Weizmann Institute.
The U.S.-Israel Science and Technology Development Commission awarded $5.3 million to the partnership to demonstrate the feasibility of the plant. The funding agreement was signed Monday during a ceremony at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. The commission was created by President Clinton and the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1994 to enhance cooperation and create technology-based jobs. The U.S. and Israel each committed $15 million over three years to fund technologically innovative projects that have the potential of significant economic benefits. Attending the signing Monday were Israeli officials from the Ministry of Industry and Trade and representatives from the U.S. and Israeli companies involved, as well as U.S. and Alabama government officials. The local Reform congregation in Huntsville, Temple B’nai Sholom, hosted a reception for the Israeli visitors on Sunday night. The plant to be tested will use an air receiver and special optics developed by the Weizmann Institute. Sunlight is reflected by computer-controlled mirrors to a 300-foot tall tower, which bounces the energy back to the air receiver on the ground. The concentrated sunlight provides the high temperatures needed to directly power gas turbines. Robert Drubka, program manager for McDonnell Douglas, said the U.S.-Israeli design differs from current solar power plants by permitting “the flexibility of operating directly from solar energy, directly from gas or in combination between solar and gas at the highest efficiency.” It can operate 24 hours a day, even in inclement weather. One advantage to the plant is that it can be built from the ground up, in isolated areas that do not have electrical infrastructure, said McDonnell Douglas spokesman Keith Takahashi. Takahashi added that as the technology is developed, the costs could reach a point where it could be a competitive choice for power companies that have conventional power generation plants. “If the technology proves itself, you could start out with a small plant and add modules as you want to increase power generation.” The solar power plant will be capable of generating up to tens of megawatts of power. The demonstration plant should be functional in about three years. McDonnell Douglas is responsible for system engineering. It previously developed a 10-megawatt solar energy project in the Mojave Desert a decade ago. Ormat Industries is responsible for the power conversion system, and Rotem Industries will produce the air receiver and optics for the project. The Weizmann Institute’s commercial arm, Yeda Research and Development, is responsible for transferring the technologies to industrial use. The Weizmann solar test facility was constructed a decade ago. Takahashi said this technology provides “renewable energy, is environmentally friendly, and it’s something we’re very hopeful will benefit generations ahead of us.”