On April 22, 196 nations across the world marked Earth Day, the annual day dedicated to environmental protection that was enacted in 1970. Israel, which is known as the “start-up nation” for its disproportionate amount of technological innovation, including in the area of protecting the environment, must not be forgotten on this day.
So, for Earth Day 2016, here is a sampling of the Jewish state’s internal achievements and global contributions in the environmental realm.
Israeli water experts say that a combination of water conservation technologies has made Israel nearly drought-proof. In a quest to conserve water while watering plants, Simcha Blass discovered drip irrigation in Israel in the 1930s. He realized that instead of watering land with uncontrolled amounts of water, he could create a device that uses friction and water-pressure loss to regulate small leaks. The Israeli company Netafim established its first production facility in 1965 and eventually improved Blass’s original design with new technology. Today, Netafim operates in 120 countries.
Israel also is known for desalination, the process of converting seawater into potable water. Among the nation’s five desalination plants, the world’s largest seawater desalination plant, Sorek, is about nine miles south of Tel Aviv and produces about 624,000 cubic meters (roughly 164 million gallons) of potable water a day. The plant was built by IDE Technologies, an Israeli water desalination company named by MIT Technology Review as one of the world’s 50 smartest companies in 2015. It is the same company that co-designed the Western Hemisphere’s largest desalination plant, a California facility that is expected to provide the state with roughly 200,000 cubic meters (50 million gallons) of drinking water daily.
In February 2016, the Israeli government signed a major agreement with Jordan and the Palestinian Authority regarding a plan to desalinate and share approximately 120 million cubic meters (about 32 billion gallons) of water from the Red Sea. A new desalination plant in the Jordanian city of Aqaba will be built for this purpose, and the project is expected to cost about $800 million.
Israel treats more than 86 percent of its sewage water. A recently released quality-of-life report for the 34-nation Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development showed that the proportion of Israelis not hooked up to wastewater recycling fell from 7.7 percent in 2000 to 2.2 percent in 2014, giving Israel the best percentage in the OECD. One notable Israeli start-up company in this field is Tal-Ya Agriculture Solutions, which developed a reusable plastic tray that covers plants’ root systems, directing water and fertilizer directly to the roots and resulting in savings of at least 50 percent in both water and fertilizer.
According to Israel NewTech, a national program led by the country’s Ministry of Industry, a delegation from a Romanian water utility company and the CEO of a Brazilian water utility visited Israel in April to learn about the Jewish state’s water technologies.
“Nothing can compare to seeing Israeli technologies at work in person,” said Boaz Albaranes, Israel’s economic attaché in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Th0e latest statistics from Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection show that the country recycles about 25 percent of its waste. The Israeli government hoped to increase this figure to 50 percent by 2020, though it re-evaluated that goal to a more manageable 35 percent in March 2016. The government has decided to offer additional cash incentives to towns to increase the amount of waste they recycle and to build 46 new sorting and treatment facilities.
The Israeli company HomeBioGas has developed a system to turn kitchen waste and animal manure into cooking gas and liquid fertilizer. According to the company’s website, using the system reduces both deforestation and the amount of methane that escapes from organic matter into the atmosphere, a concern pertaining to global warming. A typical family using the system, which is not powered by electricity and therefore conserves energy, will be able to produce enough gas to cook three meals a day.
Another Israeli invention is a bicycle made entirely of recycled cardboard, melted recycled plastic, and car tires. The bicycle, invented by Izhar Gafni, is durable enough to carry up to 300 pounds. Gafni plans to sell each bicycle for a modest $20, making it widely affordable. The bicycle’s use, Gafni hopes, will improve traffic congestion and reduce pollution from car exhaust.
Renewable energy and clean air
In recent months, Israel faced a controversy over renewed findings relating to air pollution in the northern city of Haifa, where several oil refineries, power plants, and other chemical plants along the city’s port are known to cause pollution.
“We will ensure that the trend we have embarked upon to clean Haifa of pollution will intensify on all fronts. We have much work ahead of us, but we are determined to do it on behalf of the health of the Haifa Gulf residents,” Israeli Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabay said earlier this month.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government this month approved a plan to reduce the country’s emission of greenhouse gases and improve energy efficiency, which would help the Jewish state meet the goals of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference. Under the plan, Israel will allocate NIS 500 million ($133 million) for government guarantees of loans made to energy efficiency programs, and another NIS 300 million ($80 million) to grants for energy efficiency projects, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses working in the field. The Israeli government estimates that this will save the Israeli economy about NIS 30 billion ($8 billion), bringing Israel closer to meeting the goals set at last December’s U.N. conference in Paris. In addition, Israel is planning to create minimum requirements for the production of power from renewable sources and to remove barriers in the clean-tech industry.
Two wind farms housing 25 wind turbines apiece, in the northern Israeli villages of Ramat Sirin and Ma’ale Gilboa, have been built by Afcon Holdings. Each turbine produces 850 kilowatts of energy an hour.
The world’s tallest solar power plant is being built in Israel’s Negev Desert by Megalim Solar Power, with General Electric as a shareholder. The plant is estimated to cost $773 million and is expected to be completed next year. The plant will use 50,000 computer-controlled mirrors to focus solar rays on the tower, producing 121 megawatts of power — about 1 percent of Israel’s electricity needs. Additionally, the Ketura solar field, situated in Israel’s largest solar park, has a capacity of 40 megawatts and features 140,343 solar panels.
In November 2015, the U.S. Department of Energy and Israel’s Ministry of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources announced $5.1 million in funding for six clean energy projects as part of the Binational Industrial Research and Development Energy program. Among the program’s selected start-ups is a company aiming to develop smart electric grid solutions for industrial and commercial buildings, as well as companies working to reduce the cost and improve the production of solar energy systems deployed over water. Another start-up in the program aims to develop software that can assess the impact of wind turbines on birds, allowing for the development of more wind energy without hurting birds and bats.
Outside of Israel’s borders, in February the Israeli start-up BreezoMeter, which developed a way to provide real-time data about air pollution, expanded to nine new countries, including countries like China that are grappling with major air pollution.
The American-Israeli firm Gigawatt Global, meanwhile, was awarded a major grant by the United States Trade and Development Agency to help build Burundi’s first major utility-connected solar field. Gigawatt Global plans to build a 7.5-megawatt solar field in Burundi’s Gitega region, which is expected to increase the country’s electricity production by 15 percent. The USTDA grant is part of the U.S. government’s Power Africa Initiative. Gigawatt Global has received a total of about $1 million in American and European grants for the project.
The funding for the Burundi project follows the completion of eastern Africa’s first-ever utility-scale solar field in Rwanda, providing roughly 6 percent of Rwanda’s power supply and located on an Israeli-inspired orphanage, the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village.