By Shifra Mincer Published: May 27, 2011


Nestled deep in Israel’s Negev desert, just several miles from the Gaza Strip on one side and Jordan on the other, the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies is a multinational education center whose aim is to use environmental projects to scale back more than just carbon emissions.

“We live in a very small region: I’m talking about a few kilometers in distance” Director of Arava’s Center for Renewable Energy, Dr. Tareq Abu Hamed told AOL Energy. “We have the same climate, the same problems, the same air pollution, the same water scarcity, the same food, the same traditions, but we have this border that we made.”

Among Abu Hamed’s projects is a passive, or natural, cooling system made of aluminum thins, which he is developing in collaboration with a Jordanian scientist, Aiman Alshare, professor at the German Jordanian University in Amman. By increasing the surface area of the back of the panels and allowing for great fluid buoyancy, the temperature of the panels is naturally lowered.

“Even a small drop in the temperature results in a much longer life cycle of the [photovoltaic (PV) solar panels],” Alshare told AOL Energy. “We are talking in the range of 15-20 percent [efficiency], but even a few percent, will make a big difference for the electrical production.”

Water, which is generally used cooling PV panels, is quite scarce in the region.

“If we used it, we would have to reuse it, but we don’t need hot water in the desert,” said Abu Hamed.

Abu Hamed is a Palestinian from East Jerusalem who moved south, with his family, to the mostly Israeli Kibbutz Ketura in 2008. He and Alshare collaborated previously, on a solar hydrogen project, at the University of Minnesota. This is Alshare’s first project, however, with the Israel-based Arava Institute.

He said that is was “an eye-opening” experience, one that taught him more about how Israel operates and conducts work. He said that with more funding he would implement much of what he learned back home in Amman.

Kibbutz Ketura-Abu Hamed’s home-is located in the Arava Desert and announced on Monday that it would be building Israel’s first medium-sized 4.9MW photovoltaic solar field in partnership with Arava Power. This field will make the cooling technology even more important for a region that already relies heavily on solar power. In Israel, nearly all apartment buildings and homes use rooftop solar panels to heat water.

Alshare and Abu Hamed hope to present their innovative passive cooling research in a paper this coming fall.

Arava’s other projects include developing new hydrogen fuel cells for cars that require less water than previous models, biogas production from biowastes and water recycling systems, both projects that are particularly important for desert Bedouins who lack access to running water and electricity.

Arava’s Executive Director David Lehrer told AOL Energy that while conflicts may exist in the region, scientists and academics understand the need for multinational cooperation.

“Environments are shared,” said Lehrer. “You can’t really protect the environment unless you work with your neighbors.”