Long-awaited winter rains, plus my recent trip to the Arava in southern Israel are the inspiration for this week’s blog. The Arava region in Israel’s Negev “desert” now produces 60% of Israel’s exports of food crops, right alongside massive fields of solar panels. It is a microcosm of Israel’s advanced agricultural technologies that combine with its cleantech innovations to help generate a green and sustainable planet.
My journey south centered around Kibbutz Ketura, just 50km north of Eilat, which hosts the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. It also contains a 5MegaWatt solar field, with self-cleaning robots, built by Arava Power, which is now constructing a 40MW field just across the road. It has a factory growing special algae that makes Ketura the world’s leading source of the natural anti-oxidant astaxanthin.
(Algae growing frames - Kibbutz Ketura. Photo by M.Ordman)
Two innovative joint research projects have just been approved, involving scientists at MIT and at Ben Gurion University of the Negev. You can probably guess the goals of “Self-Sustained Agriculture Based on Marginal Water”, but you may have more trouble with “Identification of Epigenetic Quantitative Trait Loci Associated with Tomato Seed Germination”! Before we leave the Negev, Israel’s Brenmiller Energy has just announced that it will establish a 10MW solar power station in Dimona, capable of generating electricity from solar energy for an average of 20 hours a day.
Heading north we reach a rather wet Tel Aviv, where hydroponics - growing crops without soil - are cultivating lettuce and strawberries in the Central Bus Station using water from the building’s air-conditioning system. Just around the corner, Israel’s Flux has developed a personal device that helps individuals and small businesses install home-farming hydroponics.
Up in the Galilee, delegates at Kinneret College’s first Water Conference heard how Israel’s BSc graduates in Water Industry Engineering extended a wastewater system under Israel’s main Tel Aviv highway, without disrupting traffic. Several ex-students currently work for some of the 11 Israeli water companies that recently visited Spain to present technology to help Spanish infrastructure companies recycle more of the rain in Spain. We now cross the sea to Africa, where students from Tel Aviv University have built a 48,000-liter rainwater harvesting and advanced filtration system that provides 400 children and staff at Nkaiti Secondary School in Minjingu, Tanzania with safe drinking water.
Israel’s newly launched relationship with India is on the crest of a wave. Israeli water company Netafim has been selected to partake in a $60 million micro-irrigation project in the Indian state of Karnataka. The project will help 6,700 farmers in 22 villages, increase crop production and save 50 percent of their water consumption. Meanwhile, Israel’s Water-Gen is bringing its pioneering air-to-water technology to the urban poor of India, where over 150 million people are not connected to a water supply. In addition, the Israel pavilion entitled “Israel Innovation in India” opened at Vibrant Gujarat 2015, showcasing advanced Israeli agriculture technologies.
Just in case anyone thought that Israel had abandoned Haiti, five years after the devastating earthquake, IsraAID’s work there includes the agriculture program “Haiti Grows”, supporting local farmers with Israeli technology. Closer to home, the Israeli government has sponsored Palestinian Arab strawberry farmers to upgrade facilities and train them in strawberry cultivation. Annually, Israel trains 1200 Palestinian Arab farmers.
There has been some good news emanating from Europe recently. Nine Israeli cleantech companies attended Leipzig’s Green Ventures Forum,where they held over a hundred meetings with companies from over 30 countries. Over in Italy, Israel has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Fiat Chrysler, Iveco and Magneti Marelli for co-operation in the development of natural gas based technologies. And even the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) was appreciative of the five-day MASHAV workshop in Israel, teaching successful renewable energy practices and energy efficiency technologies to 23 experts and policymakers from across Eurasia.
Back in Israel, the Environment Ministry has just announced that it will provide $1.6 million for local authorities to encourage commuters to use public transport or bicycles in congested Israeli cities. It includes new bicycle rental stations, cycle paths and a subsidized station taxi service. And I won’t say “no” if someone wants to donate to me one of the new INU electric scooters launched by Israel’s Green Ride It folds automatically, recognizes its owner and has a range of 40km at speeds up to 25km/hour.
Before I put on my hat and coat, there is just room to include Jacob Richman’s excellent image of the new Israeli stamps featuring some of Israel’s beautiful winter flowers. And I conclude with a puzzling phenomenon. After an absence of 20 years, flocks of synchronized starlings have been forming spectacular sights of dancing clouds in the skies of southern Israel. Are they also enjoying Israel’s new blue-sky thinking?