ISRAEL’S ENVIRONMENTAL TECHNOLOGIES
In a country with limited land, water, energy and other natural resources, environmental research is by no means a luxuryit is a matter of survival itself. In order to absorb and feed a rapidly growing population and at the same time to develop advanced industries, Israel has had to find ways to use every available meter of land, ray of sunshine and drop of water while at the same time ensuring that its intensive use of resources will not harm the environment. Yet, paradoxically, these very constraints have challenged Israeli scientists to develop a host of new technologiesplacing Israel at the forefront of world developments in a number of environmental fields.
As a country plagued by water scarcity, Israel was forced to develop innovative ways to manage its minimal water resources and to make every drop count. Since surface and groundwater sources are not sufficient to meet the demands of a growing population and economyIsrael’s per capita water potential is among the lowest in the worldthe country has had to increase its development and use of treated wastewater, brackish water and water harvesting (collection, storage and use of storm runoff).
Israel is a world leader in the development of drip irrigation, a technique by which relatively small amounts of water are delivered directly to the roots of growing plants. When the flow of water is controlled by sensors linked to central computers, drip and other forms of micro-irrigation can reduce water use by at least one-third, depending upon the crop. These techniques have the further advantage of reducing such adverse environmental impacts as increased salination which are associated with continuous irrigation. By enabling farmers to deliver precise quantities of fertilizers as well as water directly to the plant, fertilizer contamination of soils and groundwater is reduced.
Since much of the water now used for irrigation is brackish, agricultural research has catalyzed the development of crops which either require a minimal amount of water or are able to thrive on brackish water. Thanks to the development of new plant strains that are bred specifically for these conditions, crop yields are constantly on the increase while fresh water is preserved for domestic consumption.
The combination of severe water shortage, contamination of water resources, densely- populated urban areas and highly intensive irrigated agriculture has placed wastewater treatment and reuse high on the list of Israel’s national priorities. Effluents constitute the most readily available and cheapest source of additional water and provide a viablealthough partialsolution to Israel’s water scarcity problem. Israel today is a world leader in wastewater recycling, which now accounts for some 30% of total supply, up from 3% two decades ago. Through recycling of urban wastewater for irrigation purposes, in accordance with strict permits issued by the Ministry of Health, the country not only saves precious freshwater but prevents environmental damage caused by indiscriminate discharge of wastewater to streams and seas.
Israel’s water scarcity problem is exacerbated by the fact that over half of the country’s land area constitutes an arid desert. Strategies implemented since the creation of the country in 1948 have succeeded not only in pushing the edge of the desert southward, but actually reversing the process of desertification. Using a number of innovative methods, including harvesting techniquessome of which were first employed two thousand years ago by the Nabatean inhabitants of the arearainfall and runoff are redirected, and relatively highly-productive patches are created within the desert landscape. Israeli scientists have succeeded in tripling the species diversity of annuals and in bringing about a tenfold increase in total plant productivity in areas where climatic conditions do not permit woodlands or shrubs to grow without substantial human intervention. As a world leader in arid zone management, including afforestation, water harvesting, water and soil conservation, and use of saline water, Israel is taking an active part in regional and international efforts to combat desertification.
Technological Developments in Water Treatment
The priority granted to water and wastewater treatment in Israel is mirrored in the accelerated development of new technologies in this field. One innovative program, known as the technological incubator, provides support for the incipient stage of research and development initiated by the individual inventor or entrepreneur. The program, which was initiated by the Office of the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Industry and Trade just over five years ago, has already enabled several innovative ideas to develop and bloom. At the same time, several established companies have been able to draw on the technological fruits of these incubators to develop new products and to advance existing products.
Following is a representative sampling of some of the companies which are currently developing water-related technologies within this framework:
– Bio-Treat Temed Ltd. specializes in the design and development of specific biological treatment schemes for solving industrial wastewater problems and for recuperating contaminated material. During the incubation period, the company succeeded in developing a prototype kit for bioremediation of water polluted by mineral oils used for lubrication by car repair and car service shops.
– Qualifer Ltd. has developed a programmable, precise, pure composition multi-layer sampler. The system will be used for monitoring groundwater quality in existing and newly drilled wells.
– Elif Technologies Ltd. has developed an electro-catalytic method for industrial wastewater treatment which leaves no sludge or any other solid residue. Studies have proven the viability and efficiency of the process, especially for industrial wastewater streams containing organic constituents such as dyes (textile), detergents, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and more. The company has already designed and installed a complete wastewater treatment plant at a fowl-meat processing plant and has installed industrial pilot plants at textile dyeing and plywood manufacturing plants.
While technological incubators represent the initial stages of research and development, a wide variety of environmental technologies have already reached full commercializationmaking a mark not only in Israel but worldwide. Following is a small sampling:
– VerdEco Technologies Ltd., a newly formed company, is striving to become a leading provider of monitoring, analysis and control solutions for water in natural urban and industrial environments. Its first product, a reliable, real time, low cost monitor, is capable of automatically analyzing the contents of toxic heavy metals in industrial wastewater. It can detect traces of lead, nickel, copper, cadmium and other heavy metals, down to 50 ppb, at high accuracy and sensitivity.
– Polysiv Plastic Products Ltd. has developed a system for manhole control units which enables convenient access for ongoing maintenance of sewage systems while preventing leakage to underground water. The company’s lightweight, easy to install, polyethylene units provide a sealed system which prevents leakage to groundwater and is resistant to chemicals.
– Arrow Ecology Ltd. – Environmental Management Services has developed and operates a mobile industrial wastewater treatment unit which can treat industrial wastewater including acids, bases, chromates, cyanides and oily wastewater. The unit consists of a wide variety of treatment facilities including effluent filtration and sludge drying units. Another development is a unique robot which can enter sludge lagoons or cooling towers to pump out the sludge.
– E.P.C. Ltd. has developed an on-site wastewater treatment system which is small, cheap, devoid of excess sludge and able to produce effluent which is clean enough to irrigate public or private gardens. The system is used for individual and small wastewater treatment plants and is designed specifically for small village communities, farms, homes, picnic parks, campgrounds and other facilities without a connection to main sewage lines.
– Filtration Ltd. has developed a solution to the problem of the backwash water of water treatment plants. Filtration’s automatic self-cleaning filter is designed to overcome the problems of water loss and contamination by treating the backflush water to the plant source level and returning it to the inlet of the main water treatment. It is intended for use in industry, municipalities and agriculture.
Solar and Alternative Energy
Because Israel has almost no natural fuel sources other than its abundant sunshine, it has become a world pioneer in the use of solar energy, not only for low-tech domestic use but also in cutting-edge technologies for solar power stations. As a result of university research carried out as early as the 1950s, Israeli scientists were able to develop the first solar absorption coatings, essentially black enamels that made it possible for solar panels to retain a higher proportion of the sun’s energy. This development led to a decision to equip all residential and commercial buildings in the country with solar water heaters. Today Israel produces most of its domestic hot water and 3 percent of its national energy balance from solar power, as well as exporting tens of thousands of solar water heaters all over the world. An Israeli company was the first to develop and install a fully functional large-scale solar-powered electricity generating plant in South California’s Mojave desert.
Israel’s solar energy developments continue to gain international recognition. Thus, in March 1997, McDonnell Douglas and Israel’s Ormat Industries Ltd., Rotem Industries Ltd. and the Weizmann Institute of Science, through its commercial arm, Yeda Research and Development Co. Ltd., were awarded a $5.3 million contract by the U.S.-Israel Science and Technology Commission to jointly demonstrate the commercial feasibility of an advanced solar-power plant capable of generating from hundreds of kilowatts to tens of megawatts of power.
The novel U.S.-Israeli system uses special optics and an innovative air receiver developed by the Weizmann Institute. These reflect, concentrate and convert sunlight to provide the high temperatures necessary to directly power gas and steam turbines in a combined cycle and thus generate electricity. The flexibility to operate on either solar, gas, or a combination of solar and gas will provide operational flexibility and guarantee electricity even during inclement weather.
By the end of the century, the U.S.-Israeli team expects to develop an operational 200-300 kilowatt system to be located at the Weizmann Institute’s solar research facility. Based on technologies which will be tested and developed in this project, larger-scale commercial power stations, capable of generating hundreds of kilowatts to tens of megawatts of power, will then be set up. The collaboration’s ultimate goal is to develop an industrial productsolar power stations that will produce electricity at competitive prices compared with those of existing power stations.
It is estimated that 10 km2 of the Negev desert receive on an annual average, an amount of solar energy equal to all of the electricity generated by the Israel Electric Corporationa process that consumes about one-third of the country’s entire fuel imports. Therefore, it is only natural that in Israel’s arid south, Ben Gurion University’s Solar Energy Research Center is testing and demonstrating a variety of solar-powered thermal and photovoltaic technologies. The Center makes it possible to take a new idea from the initial laboratory stage right through to final large-scale testing in the sun-soaked Negev desert. This approach further enhances Israel’s status as a world leader in solar studies and the exploitation of solar energy.
In addition to these developments, several Israeli companies have entered the solar energy market. For example, Solor Photovoltaic Systems, a division of Chromagen Solar Energy Systems, has developed a solar energy system that can simultaneously supply electric power and hot water for residential applications. This versatile Multi Solar System uses photovoltaic cell technology and batteries in combination with flat solar panels to supply hot water, lighting and heating for domestic and industrial purposes. The PV cells are cooled by the water circulating in the solar panels, a factor which increases the efficiency of operation. The system is modular with a daily output of between 2kWh to 4kWh of usable electricity and 8000 kilocalories of hot water, more than required by an average household.
In addition to its world leadership in the field of solar energy, Israeli companies are also world-renowned in the development of other alternative energy sources. Ormat, for example, has developed into a leading international company which specializes in the design and installation of electricity generating equipment for low temperature heat, mainly geothermal and industrial waste heat. The company’s geothermal power plants emit no toxic or greenhouse gases and meet the most stringent clean air standards. Ormat’s technology is not restricted by power generation: the company has developed a technique for enhanced evaporation of chemical brines that needs only 1kWh per cu. m. of evaporated liquid, compared with 20-30 kWh/cu.m. for conventional concentrations, and a low-energy dehumidifier for greenhouses that allows heating without excessive humidity that leads to fungal growth. Ormat’s modular power plants, ranging from 200 kW to over 120 MW, efficiently match the power plant to the geothermal resource characteristics, steam quality and brine chemistry. Several of Ormat’s products have been awarded the green label which is granted to products with reduced environmental impact. These include: the closed cycle vapor turbogenerator, industrial air-cooled heat exchangers and Ormat Energy Converter.
Still another company, Coolingtec Industries Ltd. has developed absorption cooling technology which turns heat into cooling without utilizing a gas compressor. Each of these systems consists of two basic components: the refrigerant and the absorber. The system uses environment friendly materials which prevent the danger of gas leakage, and results in significant electricity savings through the use of a cogeneration unit which uses engine cooling waste heat and exhaust gases waste heat. The result: a smaller electricity generation unit, lower energy requirements, less pollution and no noise generation.
Gal Yam Energy Ltd. has invented a unique generator utilizing horizontal and vertical sea or ocean waves to provide new energy sources without depleting the earth’s natural resources.
Integrated Pest Management
Israel is well known for its landmark agricultural achievements. Its success was fired by the belief that only by working the soil could the rebirth of the Jewish nation in Israel strike roots. Extensive scientific research complemented this approach. However, the "greening of the desert" and impressive agricultural yields were often secured by an increasing reliance on insecticides and fertilizers.
Today, as the dangers of chemical control are becoming more evident, Israeli scientists are increasingly pursuing less harmful agricultural control methods, replacing chemical with biological and other measures. Largely pioneered in Kibbutz Sede Eliyahu in Israel’s Beit She’an Valley, biological control, is currently being implemented in several agricultural areas in Israel.
Biological control works together with natural forces. Successful identification of chemical components of the world of insects is enabling the laboratory synthesis of highly specialized signals, painstakingly designed by evolution. One example involves the isolation and synthesis of pheromonessubstances secreted by insects to communicate a variety of social messages. Fertile female insects often secrete pheromones that are carried by the wind, attracting males downstream. Initially, natural pheromones, extracted from females, were used to trap males. Later, a laborious process which monitored the response of male antennae, enabled scientists to chemically synthesize the compounds. In one successful project, scientists managed to use this method to combat the citrus moth whose larvae prevent fruit development by destroying the flower’s ovary. The project’s success reduced the need for chemical control in citrus groves. Other projects include use of pheromone traps to monitor the number of males as well as the egg-laying period in order to pinpoint the ideal time for spraying.
Another form of biological control utilizes knowledge of predator-prey interactions. The development and introduction of beneficial natural enemies including predatory mites, beetles and wasps as well as bacteria and fungi is proving to be a superior alternative to conventional chemical pesticides in terms of long-term effectiveness, cost and safety. Increasingly, such natural enemies are being introduced to agricultural fields to combat agricultural pests.
Both Israel’s academic institutions and its industrial sector are busy developing innovative products which are aimed at reducing the use of pesticides and insecticides to a minimum. In the Hebrew University alone, research projects have yielded a wide variety of new products now ready for commercialization: biological control of plant pathogenic fungi using bacteria, a natural product produced by a biocontrol agent which inhibits a wide spectrum of microorganisms, a new microbial pesticide for the control of pests in agriculture and public health, and a biological method for the control of rodent pests.
One of the most prominent examples of the efficacy of natural enemies is a bacterium, discovered in a Negev puddle in 1976, which was found to be lethal to certain flies and mosquitoes. Coined Bacillus t. israelensis
(BTI), it provides a revolutionary means of controlling water-breeding insects. Commercial production has proved vital, particularly in Africa, where israelensis has zeroed in on insects transmitting severe tropical diseases including malaria and African sleeping disease.
Several of Israel’s technological incubators are also working in the field of integrated pest management. Thus, Contrix Ltd. has developed a unique organic polymer matrix that enables dependable slow release of substances, such as fertilizers, pesticides, plant growth stimulants, corrosion inhibitors and biological agents while Friendly Fungi Ltd. is developing a family of natural fungi which are environmentally friendly but deadly to agricultural pests.
Additional Technological Developments
In addition to its world-renowned developments in the field of water and agriculture, Israel has also developed technologies for monitoring air and water pollution, cleaning up oil spills and other industrial waste, and recycling agricultural and urban waste. For example, Foam Systems A. Ltd., a technological incubator, has developed a system for the complete cleanup of marine and fresh water oil spills which is based on the absorption of the spilt oil by polymeric foam. Another company, ISPRA Israel Product Research Co. Ltd., has developed an automatic oil spill detector which is connected to an alarm control box and is capable of floating on water. This patented spill detector instantaneously warns of even small quantities of petrol oil which appear on the water surface. The system is intended for use in oil transfer sites, offshore drilling platforms, marine power plants, desalination plants, etc.
Several technological incubators are working on various aspects of recycling, as follows:
P.L.P. Ltd. has developed a technology which is reported to recycle up to 97% of urban waste and to turn it into activated carbon with almost no pollution residues. Organic waste ingredients are transformed into a raw material with high resale values.
Cycletec Recycling Technologies Ltd. is in the process of developing a technology for manufacturing composite material products based on recycled commingled plastic and paper as raw material.
EMR-Ecological Metal Recycling Ltd. is developing advanced technological processes for metal extraction from waste, using liquid solvent composition.
Supersoil has developed a new technology for production of artificial peat and oil and cow bedding which is based on the destruction of the cellular structure of organic waste (especially paper and livestock waste).
Air quality, energy production and treatment of hazardous gases and materials are also of high priority. An incubator known as Vortex Ecological Technologies Ltd. has developed a technology for cleaning gas in a vortex bubbling chamber. It has completed laboratory testing of a prototype for cleaning 5000 m3/h of gas from particles and hazardous gases and is now developing a vortex chamber for gas cleaning with a flow rate of 25000 m3/h. Other developments in the incubator stage include an air-dust concentration and humidity measuring device intended for industrial undertakings subject to dust pollution, meteorological measurements and ecological control (Ecoclim Measuring Ltd.); ozone generators (ozonators) of different capacities for application in air treatment, water and liquid treatments and other treatments (Ozontech Ltd.), and a novel catalytic converter which will neutralize noxious fumes according to the permitted U.S. regulation levels for use in the automotive and chemical industries (Zeonetics Ltd.) and an ecologically friendly water boiler based on a catalytic heat power source of 10 KW
(Catalytic System Technologies Ltd.).
Especially promising in the field of air pollution is the development and manufacture of an advanced zinc-air batter-based system for powering electric vehicles. Electric Fuel Limited, a subsidiary of the publicly owned Electric Fuel Corporation, has developed a zinc-air battery block comprised of 22 series-connected individual cells. In addition to the battery which is composed of a series of zinc anode cassettes, the Electric Fuel system includes an automated battery refueling system for replacing depleted cassettes and a regeneration system for recycling depleted cassettes. The system offers significant advantages over other electric vehicle battery systems, making it ideal for fleet operators. The battery delivers a unique combination of high energy density and high power density which provides superior range, speed and acceleration and less frequent refueling. The company has already entered into several cooperative ventures with corporations and organizations throughout the world which are committed to introducing and promoting clean electric transportation as a realistic alternative to the internal combustion engine. These include programs with Deutsche Post AG, the German Postal Service, which is sponsoring an extensive field test of electric vans and light pick-up trucks powered by Electric Fuel zinc-air batteries.
Other environmental technologies span from a new method intended to overcome the aesthetic damage to quarried rock which was developed by Geoprospect 1986 Jerusalem Ltd. to environmental data management systems such as those developed by Envitech. Geoprospect’s method is based on a chemical reaction which creates a thin film of a new material, darker than the scar. It can be applied in various tones, according to the rock type and the colors of the environment. Experiments have revealed no danger of poison, nor damage to flora and fauna. The method has already been implemented in quarries and rocky slopes in various parts of the country.
Envitech designs environmental data management systems for monitoring air, water, toxic gas, radiation and noise. The company’s Data Logger and Control System is a basic unit of an environmental quality monitoring station. An innovative feature of this company is a software package which provides data collection, analysis, archive handling, reporting and dynamic display operating under Microsoft Windows.
With an Eye to the Future
Despite its small size, Israel has become a major player in the international market for environmental technologies and services. Its technological strength in solving environmental problems has largely grown from adversityits limited land reserves, of which fifty percent is desert, and scarcity of water, and lack of energy sources. However, its second key area of competitive advantage is in its scientific and technological manpower and in the way its research and development establishment is organized and funded.
In recent years, many academic research groups and industrial companies have found ways to exploit their existing technology base for new environmental products, especially defense-technology companies that are now looking for new civilian markets for their accumulated know-how. Thus Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI), Rafael, Elbit and other leading defense contractors and government laboratories are all making major investment of resources in adapting existing technology to environmental products, such as the use of IAI’s miniature remotely piloted vehicles to carry equipment for remote sensing of air pollution, or the adaptation of optical lasers to measure water pollution. The government has also made an important policy move that is affecting the entire spectrum of high-tech through the creation of a special program for generic technology development, in which consortia of academic and industrial researchers work together on pre-competitive research and development, sharing their knowledge base and receiving a high level of matching funds.
Today, Israel’s environmental research and development is as wide-ranging as it is advanced. This environmental know-how has made an impact which has extended well beyond the borders of this country alone. Hopefully, as economic cooperation with Israel’s neighboring Arab states increases through the regional peace process, Israel’s expertise in such vital areas as water resource management and combating desertification will help contribute toward a better environment in the entire region.
Acknowledgment: The material for this paper is was kindly provided by Israel’s Environmental Technology Center and the Technological Incubator Program. For further information, please contact:
Environmental Technology Center
Israel Export Institute
Tel Aviv 61500, Israel
Technological Incubator Program
Tel Aviv 61500, Israel