Dreams of an energy-independent Israel
“I envision a world powered by renewable energy. We are totally dependent on petroleum-based fossil fuels, which are rapidly depleting. In Israel, considering our unstable geopolitical situation, the problem is particularly acute,” says Betina Tabah, a PhD candidate in the Chemistry Department of BIU and at BINA. Under the supervision of Prof. (Em.) Aharon Gedanken, Tabah is researching new methods for converting biomass to bioethanol. “I hope to see Israel become self-sufficient, generating its own clean, well-regulated sustainable energy for transportation,” Tabah adds.
Tabah draws inspiration from two giants: Theodor Herzl and David Ben-Gurion, each of whom believed that the independence of the Jewish state could be attained only by establishing an energy infrastructure based on natural renewable resources, eliminating reliance on imported fuel.
After completing her BSc degree in Biological Sciences and Bioengineering from Sabanci University in Turkey, Tabah immigrated to Israel and earned an MSc in Biotechnology at BGU. Firmly committed to discovering clean green energy solutions, her passion is infectious. “Because Israel is limited in natural resources, we must come up with creative viable sources for energy production in the future. My research focuses on low-cost methods of producing biofuel from organic waste, agricultural residues, and marine and terrestrial biomass which can certainly be converted into bioethanol,” says Tabah. “Prof. Gedanken has an amazing talent for applying scientific findings to industrial use. He taught me the importance of developing a feasible and scalable process.”
Something new under the sun
At the recent NanoIsrael 2016 exhibition held at Tel Aviv University, several hundred research posters covered the walls of the Smolarz conference hall. Among the many scientific discoveries displayed, Tabah’s outstanding poster entitled “Solar-energy driven solid-state fermentation for continuous flow bioethanol production,” attracted particular interest and caught the attention of the judges.
In the poster, Tabah describes her experiment harnessing solar energy and integrating it into a continuous-flow production process of bioethanol. The attractive layout, eye-catching diagrams, and concise explanations won her the “Best Poster Award” in Engineering and Applied Science category.
“As far as we know, this is the first study using solar thermal energy for driving a fermentation reaction to produce bioethanol and, simultaneously, extracting the produced ethanol from the fermentation broth,” Tabah points out.
Spinning straw into green gold
“A special solar reactor, designed for the experiment, was placed on the roof of the BIU Chemistry Building. The objective was to harness solar energy as a source of heat to ferment glucose, and convert it into bioethanol,” says Tabah. “Bioethanol is a promising alternative to conventional transportation fuels. It is clean and highly-efficient, and can either be blended with petrol, or used in pure form in dedicated engines or future hybrid cars.
“I chose solid-state fermentation - an ecologically-friendly method, requiring only a minimal amount of moisture and generating no wastewater,” Tabah explains. “This technique can be easily adoptable as a sustainable and economically-viable solution for alternative fuel production. The bioethanol we produced was successfully demonstrated as a potential fuel for direct ethanol fuel cells,” says Tabah.
Driven by a strong desire to serve humankind, Tabah believes her research is an “unselfish way to make a significant change in the world.”