George Olah and G.K. Surya Prakash, professors at the University of Southern California Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, recently received the Eric and Sheila Samson Prime Minister’s Prize for Innovation in Alternative Fuels for Transportation, a $1 million prize from the State of Israel, for their innovative research on alternative fuels.
The award is given in recognition of their work on the methanol economy, a proposal to use methanol to replace fossil fuels and petroleum-based feedstocks. Though methanol can be produced from fossil fuels, it can also be produced from renewable resources, such as agricultural waste products. It also has the potential to be generated by recycling atmospheric carbon dioxide — setting up the possibility of a carbon-neutral fuel source.
Olah has described his work on developing an anthropogenic carbon cycle — that is, a way to recycle carbon dioxide into fuel — as the most important work of his career
“Basically, it should be able to replace oil,” Olah said.
Olah and Prakash are the inaugural recipients of the award, which was created by the Israeli prime minister’s office, together with the Israeli ministry of science and technology and Keren Hayesod-United Israel Appeal. The award aims to support an initiative launched by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2011 to reduce Israel’s dependence on foreign oil.