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A Bird’s Eye View– Promoting US-Israeli Cooperation in Clean Energy

By: Mickey Chesla

For 35 years the Bird Foundation has been a real mover and shaker when it comes to promoting industrial-research based projects which combine Israeli and American teams. As of 2009, the foundation initiated an additional activity, focused on clean energy. Termed Bird Energy, the project has been financed by the American DOE, and the Israel Ministry of Energy and Water Resources (as part of a separate budget, in addition to the overall budget of the Bird Foundation).

The Bird foundation approves relevant projects twice yearly, averaging 4 projects a year. Relevant projects are in the fields of renewable energy, energy efficiency and oil substitutes.

The approved budget for projects operating under the foundation’s umbrella is $12 million a year. The Bird Foundation itself contributes $4 million of this sum, giving a third to a half of the cost of each project. The projects, as previously mentioned, involve collaborations between Israeli and American companies, and these companies raise the rest of the required sum from their own sources.

The Bird Foundation’s grant is given as venture capital – if the project is unsuccessful, the company is not obligated to refund the amount given, and if the project is successful, the foundation receives royalties from the sales, up to 150% of the initial grant.

To give an idea of the Bird Foundation’s power as a catalyst, the Foundation’s Director, Eitan Yudilevich, points out that the foundation’s general activities over the years have meant close to $300 million has been invested, yielding sales of around $8 billion. “Our grants, though seemingly modest, open a bottleneck in the life of a company, resulting in significant leverage,” says Yudelevitz.

Examples of previous success stories come from the Cleantech field. Virdia (formerly HCL Cleantech) worked in conjunction with biofuel company Virent. Virent is an American company which utilizes a manufacturing process involving biological gas and the sugars in crops (including corn), converting cellulosic biomass to high quality fermentable sugars. The great advantage of this process is that the sugars are produced from a source that doesn’t compete with feedstock.

“We approved $900,000 in 2010 for these companies, for a project costing overall more than $2 million”, says Yudilevich, adding, “today, Virdia is building a manufacturing factory in the U.S. using a grant received from the DOE, and they also carried out follow-up fundraising activities. The companies worked really well together, and even began supplying samples for aircraft fuel. BIRD’s money came at the right time with regard to the connection between the two companies and also helped to push the project forward,” he says.

Yudilevich has more examples of successful projects, and there is no doubt that these bilateral collaborations have immense importance when it comes to building business relationships between the two countries, specifically in the energy field. Apparently the US congress looks upon this project extremely favorably – the Washington Jewish Week website reported that a letter has been issued on this topic, with the support of 34 congressmen . According to Yudilevich, in the field of Cleantech, Bird also has their eye on water solutions, an area in which it will rely on the Bird Foundation’s general budget.

Yudilevich says that the foundation is also ready to consider financing a water-related pilot project, with the option of collaborating with an American company that can be, among others, a water corporation (utility).

    Biofuel, Energy, Start-ups, Water
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