2 Greek scientists receive top award in the field of alternative fuels
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2 Greek scientists receive top award in the field of alternative fuels

The Eric and Sheila Samson Prize, totaling one million US dollars, is the world’s largest monetary prize awarded in the field of alternative fuels and is awarded yearly to scientists who have made critical advancements towards achieving this goal. This year, the prize goes to 2 Greek scientists.

The winners are selected from a long list of worthy candidates recommended for the prize by university presidents and CEOs in industry, from Israel and from around the world. The winners are selected by a committee of international experts who submit their recommendation to a board of trustees, headed by former Technion President, Professor Yitzhak Apeloig.

Professor Mercouri Kanatzidis from Northwestern University and Argonne National Laboratories, USA and Professor Gregory Stephanopoulos from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, who share the Prize equally.

These two distinguished scientists have been awarded the prestigious Prize for their innovative scientific and technological contributions that have the potential to lead to the development of alternative fuels for transportation, replacing the fast depleting fossil fuels which are the major fuels used nowadays in transportation. This is the fourth time this prize has been awarded by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Space and Keren Hayesod.

Mercouri Kanatzidis, is a chaired professor at Northwestern University and a Senior Scientist at Argonne National Laboratories, USA. Kanatzidis has made seminal pioneering contributions in developing pioneering concepts in the design of nanostructured thermoelectric materials that convert heat to electricity with breakthrough performance. His landmark achievement is the discovery of nanostructured thermoelectrics that broke four-decade-old efficiency records. Thermoelectrics are semiconductors that convert waste heat into electricity. By harvesting waste heat, thermoelectric materials can save energy in many thermal processes, including in automobiles, increasing significantly vehicle mileage and reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Kanatzidis research has contributed to a deeper fundamental understanding of the thermoelectric process and opened paths to further breakthroughs. Kanatzidis’ nanostructured thermoelectrics have had a revolutionary impact, and they are now the new paradigm followed by researchers worldwide. He has changed the way thermoelectric materials are designed and influenced how the scientific and technological community thinks about them. The emergence of nanostructured thermoelectrics opens a path to the commercialization of thermoelectric generators for automotive (and other applications) now under way.

Professor Gregory Stephanopoulos, is a chaired professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA and the Elected President of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Prof. Gregory Stephanopoulos is a pioneer in the field of metabolic engineering and made seminal contributions to the engineering of microbes for biofuels production. He authored the first report on the targeting and engineering of mitochondria as a favorable component for production of biofuels and introduced the concept of global Transcriptional Machinery Engineering (gTME) for improving multigene microbial phenotypes. Of specific relevance are his achievements on xylose isomerase overexpression along with the engineering of the pentose phosphate pathway that enables rapid xylose utilization and ethanol production by Saccharomyces Cerevisiae (a species of yeast). He has also developed several strategies for the conversion of natural gas (methane) to liquid fuel with much higher energy density. He is awarded the Prize for his pioneering work in the field of metabolic engineering which contributed in a major way to the progress in the engineering of microbes for biofuels production.

“This award means a lot. It is culmination of years of research in the area of renewable biofuels and biochemicals and suggests that these efforts do not go unnoticed. Furthermore, awards like this increase the visibility of the importance of renewable fuels and chemicals and underline the fact that processes for cost-effective production is just around the corner” said Professor Stephanopoulos at ellines.com.

“Our current research is focusing on an area that is not even mentioned in the award citation, which has the greatest potential in my estimate. It is the engineering of microbes (oleagininous yeasts) for the production of oil that can be converted to renewable diesel. This is the fuel whose market is presently growing very fast. If a “green” diesel were available it would make a huge difference in the aviation, tracking and shipping industries. We have achieved very high production numbers that make this process reach the limits of economical feasibility in a very competitive market of low oil prices. I am hopeful that our technologies will find their way to the marketplace for fast track commercialization” he added.

The Prize ceremony will take place during the Fuel Choices Conference in Tel Aviv on November 2.

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Greek scientist awarded by the American Chemical Society