Part of a Series – Hanukkah 2020 – Nes Gadol Haya Po – Beer Sheva and the Negev

Israel is a land with very few natural resources, and the Negev even fewer. In such situations, you must preserve what you have and use it to the fullest. So it’s not surprising to me that the 2 topics I have chosen to cover under the topic of Nes – Miracle – are centered around environmental concerns and advances developed in the Negev.

The first Miracle in our series is about renewable energy. Ever since the industrial age, the large scale emission of greenhouse gas from combustion of fossil fuels has led to an ever growing amount of Carbon Dioxide in the air and the beginning of a trend which today we know as Global Warming. One of the ways to combat Global Warming is by using alternative “Green” energy, such as solar power, wind power, etc. One of the challenges with green energy is that it is fickle – sometimes the sun is blindingly bright, and for at least half the time, the sun doesn’t shine; sometimes winds blow with gale force, and sometimes the air is calm. Finding a way to store green energy is key to fully embracing these technologies.

So, what does this have to do with Beer Sheva? My first week in Beer Sheva I met Sonya Davidson at synagogue, a woman who regularly (pre-COVID) sat a few rows in front of me. Under her unassuming exterior, is a powerhouse of a thinker. She started a company in Beer Sheva to develop storing excess energy in….water. H2 Energy Now is developing a system to take excess energy produced on those particularly sunny, or windy days, or anytime a power generation facility produces more energy than is required and using that energy to separate water into its components – Hydrogen and Oxygen. These two gases are stored in tanks until energy is required, and then recombined to form water and generate electricity. Another way to think about it as a battery, which stores energy until it is needed. But this battery is charged with water, a natural, readily available commodity. And after the energy is released the byproduct is water.

Why would you want to do this? Turns out that besides being clean, hydrogen packs a punch. More energy can be stored in hydrogen per volume than in gasoline. That’s one of the reasons that hydrogen started as a fuel for spacecraft. NASA has a keen interest in hydrogen and named Sonya’s company, H2 Energy Now, as one of 10 finalists worldwide in the 2018 NASA iTech competition. Other companies who are working on hydrogen energy storage and use for fuel are using a process of electrolysis to separate the water into hydrogen and oxygen gases, while Sonya’s uses electromagnetic radiation which is much more efficient.

Living in the Negev teaches us to see things a little differently – to interact with the environment differently – and that fosters innovation through companies like H2 Energy Now and Sonya Davidson. That spark of ingenuity, the coming together of different elements at the right time to generate a new idea, is one of the hallmarks of the Negev region. The development of energy storage systems using water in arid Beer Sheva – now that’s what I call a miracle.

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