Some 30 years of alternative fuels and feedstocks research based on methanol has garnered Nobel Laureate George A. Olah and his colleague G. K. Surya Prakash a new $1 million award presented last week by the State of Israel.
Prakash accepted the inaugural Eric & Sheila Samson Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation in Alternative Fuels for Transportation on behalf of himself and Olah during the Bloomberg Fuel Choices Summit, held on Nov. 12–13 in Tel Aviv.
The prize is part of an Israeli initiative, supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to reduce that country’s dependence on foreign oil. This year’s award recognizes Olah and Prakash’s work on the methanol economy, which proposes to use methanol to replace fossil fuels and petroleum-based feedstocks.
Olah and Prakash are both professors of chemistry at the University of Southern California. Olah is a professor of organic chemistry, and Prakash is a professor of hydrocarbon chemistry and director of the USC Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute.
Their work highlights the advantages of methanol as an alternative fuel. It can be produced from many sources, including natural gas, coal, and agricultural waste products. Methanol also has the potential to be generated renewably by recycling atmospheric carbon dioxide, setting up the possibility of a carbon-neutral fuel source.
“For energy, you need very simple solutions,” Prakash says. “And the methanol economy is such a simple idea.” He points out that countries such as China and Iran have already adopted the methanol economy. “I’m glad it’s gaining traction in many places, including a technologically advanced country like Israel,” he adds.
Olah says he hopes this latest recognition will bring even more attention to the benefits of the methanol economy.
“We’re all looking for alternative energy sources and fuels because petroleum is going to run out,” says Peter J. Stang, a professor of organic chemistry at the University of Utah and editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Chemical Society. “What Olah and Prakash have done is discovered a way of getting methanol easily and readily from various sources, including CO2 and methane.”