Introduction and scientific background

Introduction and scientific background

Societies around the world depend on petroleum for their transportation needs. However, limited oil and gas reserves suggest a looming and inevitable energy crisis that not only endangers our transportation infrastructure, but will also have serious global geopolitical consequences. Bio-diesel and biofuels has been suggested as an alternative to petroleum , but the global food shortage makes large-scale diversion of farmland to fuel production to be very problematic.  Furthermore, most of the world does not have the soil, water and climate conditions necessary for mass productions of fuel from plants. Producing fossil fuels from waste matter, via fermentation processes that decompose organic polymers such as cellulose is an attractive alternative. However, such approach cannot provide an effective  solution  for the extensive use of petroleum for transportation in the near future.


With petroleum supplies in decline and bio-diesel production in doubt, increasing number of  policy makers, industrialists and scientists are promoting electric vehicles (EVs) for ground transportation.  Transitioning away from dependence on internal combustion engines (ICE) towards electrical propulsion will benefit the global energy economy, while reducing air and noise pollution, as well as the health problems associated with the burning of fossil fuels.  Not less important is the reduction of the dependency of the western countries on fossil fuels from the third world countries, as acknowledged by policy makers in many countries, including Israel.  Supported by billions of dollars in investment money worldwide, such a transition is also supported by existing models for managing EV transportation through the use of grids, charging networks, and stations for rapid battery replacement (e.g. the “Better Place” model).  The main obstacle to widespread use of full EV is the need for electrochemical power sources that possess both high energy and high power densities, demonstrate prolonged cycle life, contain only abundant and cheap raw materials and demonstrate excellent safety features. Ultimately, the answer may come in the form of fuel cells (FC) – batteries hybrids. There are two types of FC: direct oxidation fuel cells – based on light fuels such as methanol, ethanol, ethylene glycol, or formic acid – and regular FCs – based on hydrogen . The use of regular hydrogen based FCs for EV applications is hindered by the lack of appropriate technologies for reversible and effective hydrogen storage  and the formidable investments that are required for the associated infrastructure (two topics beyond the scope of this proposal).  Direct oxidation FC production is also problematic, because of technical barriers in the production of low cost and effective electro-catalysts.  Note that electro-catalysis is needed for both efficient fuel oxidation and effective oxygen reduction. At present, the most effective catalysts for FC are based on nano-particles of platinum alloys, which are very expensive and unstable during prolonged operation . Developing cheaper and more sustainable catalysts for FC presents a considerable challenge to the scientific community.


In addition to fuel cells, numerous groups are working on rechargeable Li ion batteries , which constitute the most promising power source available for EVs . However, the low energy density of commercially available Li ion batteries translates into limited driving range between charges, thus forcing the auto industry to concentrate on hybrid EVs that have a petroleum-consuming ICE in addition to an electrical motor.  The success of the EV revolution depends on (1) effective R&D of novel Li ion batteries based on new materials that are safe and  provide high energy density at a low cost; (2) development of new types of highly rechargeable energetic cells (such as metal-air and Li-sulfur systems); (3) improvement of FC technology, particularly by identifying electro-catalysts that will make the fuel and air electrodes sustainable, more robust, and cheaper; and (4) the improvement of hybridization technology linking batteries and fuel cells for EV use. In order to provide power sources with very high power density, it is important to add a third type of devices to batteries and FCs: super-capacitors. These devices store electrical energy via electrostatic interactions in the electrical double layer (EDL) of high surface area electrodes (usually based on carbonaceous materials) . Because only electrostatic interactions are involved, EDL capacitors (EDLCs) are very fast and stable for  prolonged cycle life, but suffer from low energy density .  Increasing the energy density of EDLC without reducing the power density and sustainability presents a great challenge for modern electrochemistry. The four institutions associated with the proposed Center host prominent groups working on energy generation and storage, that have the collective expertise necessary to advance these important goals.


Israel has a battery industry that can implement new technologies, and can significantly contribute to the R&D of novel power sources for EV.  Israel is also the location and source of the world’s most comprehensive business model for managing fleets of electrical cars – the famous “Better Place” venture. There is good reason to believe that the establishment of the proposed Center will help transform Israel into a model system for EV transportation implementation.  In the Center there is a strategic  balance between experienced veterans – many of them internationally renowned experts, developing research groups, and promising new recruits.


Doron Aurbach (BIU) has contributed significantly to the R&D of advanced batteries & super capacitors, as is evident from hundreds of publications in top peer-reviewed journals in these fields . Indeed, the Aurbach group pioneered development of rechargeable magnesium batteries .


Peled’s group innovated research and development of several battery systems including lithium, magnesium and calcium thionyl chloride batteries and thermal batteries (together with RAFAEL industries Israel). This group also pioneered R&D of Li-sulfur batteries

Emanuel Peled & Dina Golodnitsky (TAU) are considered world leaders in R&D of advanced micro batteries and direct fuel cells  The TAU group was the first to address the surface phenomena enabling the operation of all kinds of Li batteries . Recently, this group pioneered the development of novel Na-air batteries.


Arie Zaban (BIU) is also involved in R&D of air batteries and recently developed a unique methodology of combinatorial preparation of mixed metal oxides that can be used as electro-catalysts for oxygen reduction in FCs and metal air batteries.


Yair Ein-Eli (Technion) pioneered the development of high voltage cathodes for Li ion batteries , as well as the development of silicon air batteries .


Yosi Shacham (TAU) has extensive experience and expertise in the fabrication of composite electrodes comprising nano-materials , and has developed unique methods for electrodes preparation, including electro-phoretic deposition .


Alex Schechter (AUC) is an expert in FCs and  the development of catalysts for such devices , His research group has recently proposed Pt free catalysts for oxygen reduction in the state of the art fuel cells. He is currently involved in an R&D efforts to develop hydrogen generator based on primary hydrides.


Yoed Tsur (Technion) has expertise in FCs and  analysis of electrodes by impedance spectroscopy .


Daniel Nessim (BIU) is an expert in the fabrication, functionalization, and characterization of carbon nanotubes  (CNTs). He developed a methodology for the preparation of carpets of vertically aligned CNTs on metallic substrates. Such functionally organized CNTs  can be considered as a critically important component in electrodes for advanced batteries and super-capacitors.


David Zitoun [BIU] develops novel silicon electrodes for high energy density Li ion batteries and in-situ characterization of Li insertion electrodes.


Dan Major (BIU) and Amir Natan (new recruit; TAU) both have expertise in first-principles computational chemistry, including state-of-the-art quantum and classical mechanics methodologies ]. The computational tools  will be used in the rational in-silico design of novel positive and negative electrodes’ materials for Li ion batteries.


The above review of the Center’s members and their skills demonstrates highly complementary knowledge, experience and capabilities. It is evident that such a heterogeneous, yet synergistic group can tackle many difficult research projects, related to energy storage & conversion, and the development of advanced power sources. The main challenges of the scientific-technologic community working to promote the EV revolution, are to radically improve the performance of the power sources relevant to electrical propulsion. Modern cars powered by petroleum (ICE vehicles) are very comfortable for both short and long term driving. It takes 5 minutes to refuel a tank with gasoline and to drive several hundreds of kilometers until the next refueling. The battery and FC technologies available today are lacking such capabilities due to the too low energy density of existing batteries, problems of hydrogen storage and long-term operation of FC. The comprehensive workplans of the proposed Center are aimed at attacking a broad frontier: batteries, fuel cells, and super-capacitors. This will be achieved by developing novel, high performing components: electrodes, catalysts and electrolyte systems. Highly important is also R&D of recycling methodologies and waste management for used batteries and fuel cells. EV applications require the use of large batteries consuming huge amounts of an assortment of metallic elements (some of these elements may be present in limited amounts in the earth crust). Indeed, extensive replacement of ICE cars by EVs will entail the use of increasingly larger batteries, thus necessitating the development of effective recycling procedures.


Facing the challenge. Members of the Center, existing faculty and new recruits, share the vision of overcoming the challenges described above via the development of novel, advanced materials. Strong collaboration and sharing of know-how among the Center members will help ensure breakthroughs in the three main areas of sustainable energy research: electricity generation, storage and transportation.

Innovative, unconventional, and multi-disciplinary ideas and approaches by the members of the Center will be encouraged. Integration of  new faculty members and training of the next generation of junior researchers are critical goals of this joint effort and are vital to the Center.

The current 11 members of the proposed Center are leading Israeli researchers with a world-class track record of scientific accomplishment, such as: 420  peer-reviewed papers published and 14500 scientific citations in the last 5 years; 65 PhD and 120  MSc graduates trained during the last 10 years; 55 PhD and 45 MSc students in addition to 50 research associates are currently available to participate in the center activities; 82 patents, resulting in 9 start-up companies. We believe that this group of scientists has the capabilities and tools required to achieve the Center’s objectives, and to assure Israel’s position as an international leader in this field.