Working on a better future for arid regions

At the conclusion of a challenging hackathon held by the college with the participation of the DeserTech community, a variety of creative solutions were proposed for storing energy in arid environments

In the ESN (Energy Storage in the Negev) hackathon event held at the college, together with the DeserTech community, creative solutions for energy storage in desert environments were proposed, which would assist in dealing with the climate crisis and its implications.

Desertech is a joint initiative of the Israel Mirage Fund, the Israeli Institute of Innovation, the Environment Ministry and the Ben Gurion Negev University, that promotes development, adaptation and commercialization of technologies that enable sustainable living in arid climates, while turning Be'er Sheva and the Negev into a global initiative center for these technologies.

The hackathon participants were asked to present new technologies, enhanced existing technologies, network conduction solutions, demand management solutions, etc., whilst relating to technological, financial, administrative, infrastructural and environmental aspects with emphasis on affinity to desert environments.

There were 10 contending groups in the hackathon, comprised of third and fourth year first degree chemical engineering students and first- and second-year green engineering master degree students. The groups were accompanied by mentors, members of the chemical engineering department and representatives of the DeserTech community, who counselled and directed towards applicable proposals.

 At the conclusion of a very intensive day the solutions were presented to the judges, who were representatives from DeserTech community industrial companies and academic lecturers, who appraised the products digitally. Appraisals by the student’s colleagues from the first- and second-year chemical engineering department were added to the weighted score.

The groups that proposed the three selected solutions won monetary prizes totaling 10,000 shekel, donated by the DeserTech community.

The first place according to the weighted scoring was given to the proposal by students Shani Avitan Basson, Shir Dayan, Mohammed Wotad, Eliraz Stemker, Bar Chen, Yarden Caleb and David Dahan – for storing thermal energy in sand and converting it to electricity. According to the proposal, mirrors would be aimed at the sun rays towards sandy plains which would enhance the radiation. The plain would be enclosed by sheeting that would enable rapid heating of the area without losing heat at nighttime. The hot sand would heat water pipes running underneath and would create steam that would operate a turbine to produce electricity. According to the proposal, the electricity should provide for the needs of a resort in the region.

The second place was awarded to the proposal by students Mor Kadosh, Mor Badnani, Dunya Elgaer, Shir Levy, Elad Goldman and Ben Amzaleg. The group proposed using an organic solvent, THF, which enables converting the methane gas created by the anaerobic digestion process of urban waste, to a solid methane hydrate crystals. The process enables storing energy under more moderate conditions than compressed natural gas, with greater transportability and at lower risk. In addition, the costs of establishing and maintaining a plant that would produce this energy product are significantly lower than the existing alternatives on the market.

Group member, Ben Amzaleg, a second-degree student of green engineering, said: “The ability to take a group of strangers, with different ranges of knowhow and experience, and to get them to have a joint short-term discussion, enables achieving new and refreshing products. We were fortunate to have the direction of excellent mentors, who teach us here at the college. The hackathon was an educational experience, that enables and assists in developing creative thinking. For students who will become engineers within the industry, this is a huge advantage. All the participants submitted interesting and fascinating proposals. And there was indeed interest among industrial factors, that offered assistance in continuing creating connections to promote the proposals”.

Sivan Cohen Shahari, manager of the DeserTech field at the Israel Mirage Fund and the Israeli Institute of Innovation: “We feel it is extremely important to connect the community with academic bodies, such as SCE, that provide future researchers, engineers and professionals. By assisting events such as the hackathon we want to position the Negev as a global center for technological solutions, that will improve living in desert environments, and create a basis for future collaborations, to establish the solutions in the field”.

Prof. Ariella Borg, head of the Chemical Engineering Department: “We are proud of our student’s creative thinking, who today showed their strength in team work and defended breakthrough projects for one of the most significant challenges that humanity will be focusing on in the coming years. We congratulate the collaboration with the Desertech community, during which officials in the community were exposed to the products and even proposed connecting to additional factors, so that the submitted proposals will not remain as ideas only. We will continue to maintain collaborations such as these, to provide students with all the tools to enable them to become the agents of change towards a better future for us all”.