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One of Ormat Technologies’ geothermal power plants. Photo: courtesy ISRAEL21C

One of Ormat Technologies’ geothermal power plants. Photo: courtesy ISRAEL21C

Solar, water, geothermal and wind power, battery techs and electric-car components are areas where Israelis are leading the renewable revolution.

By Abigail Klein Leichman

Everyone knows that fossil fuels are an unsustainable source of energy, dirtied by pollution and politics. But global attempts to find alternatives on a mass scale have had limited success.

Could Israel be the country that finally puts fossil fuels to rest with the dinosaurs?

“When we talk about killing fossil fuels, Israel is not yet seen as tops in the world, as we are in water or cyber technologies. But in each related niche — solar energy, battery technologies and electric car components – there is tremendous respect for Israeli companies,” says clean-energy activist Yosef Abramowitz, aka “Kaptain Sunshine,” whose Energiya Global social development company is bringing solar power to Africa.

Two early solar-energy pioneers founded in Israel, BrightSource Energy and Ormat Technologies, are now headquartered in the United States with myriad international projects to their credit.

BrightSource built the world’s largest solar electricity generation installation, in California, using nanoparticle coatings developed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Ormat built one of the world’s first solar-power fields, near the Dead Sea, and is a leading geothermal and recovered-energy generation producer.

Although Israeli electric-vehicle (EV) network Better Place had great disruptive potential, its bankruptcy in May 2013 dashed those hopes. Yet Abramowitz says the mega-fail led to something positive.

“Better Place spawned a whole industry of 500 [Israeli] startups in the automotive sector, largely related to electric cars and the software and hardware that will kill the combustion engine,” he tells ISRAEL21c.

In 2011, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office launched its Alternative Fuels Administration and Fuel Choices Initiative, aiming to implement government policy and support for fuel alternatives research and industry that can serve as a model for other countries while helping reduce Israel’s dependence on oil for transportation.

Since then, the number of alternative fuel research groups in Israel has grown from 40 to about 220 and the number of companies in this field to about 500. Globally, renewable energy is a $359 billion dollar business.

ISRAEL21c takes a look at 10 Israeli companies trying to accelerate the end of fossil fuels.

1. Aquarius Engines

This Israeli startup is reinventing the combustion engine to power the “series” hybrid EV car of the future. The lightweight Aquarius engine has a single-piston linear engine. A cylinder moves the fuel from side to side to generate electrical current, much like sea waves can do through an up-and-down movement.

A car fitted with the Aquarius engine would have a range of 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) per 50-liter (13-gallon) tank, which would have to be filled every five or six weeks.

Aquarius is working with Peugeot to test its engine in a concept car. The company also is developing a lightweight portable generator based on its technology.

2. Brenmiller Energy

Founded in 2012 in Rosh Ha’ayin, Brenmiller Energy has created products for renewable energy including a thermal storage system that hybridizes any power source — wind, solar, biomass, nuclear, natural gas — to provide reliable, clean energy anywhere.

The B-Gen unit’s first cycle transfers the heat coming from different sources; the discharging cycle delivers steam on demand on a megawatt or gigawatt scale. Commercial projects are underway in several countries. Founder Avi Brenmiller was involved in solar power plant design in Spain and in the United States through the Israeli company Luz Industries, acquired by Solel and then by Siemens.

3. Doral Renewable Energy Resources Group

Doral, of Ramat Gan, was the first company to connect a solar PV system to the national electricity grid, back in 2008. Its several branches operate renewable energy projects (natural gas, biogas, wind, solar) throughout Israel, especially in kibbutzim in periphery and rural areas, including what will be the largest (170 megawatts) PV power plant in the Israel.

Doral recently entered a joint venture agreement with Invenergy, the largest privately held electricity producer in the United States. Doral is planning to introduce advanced means of electricity production, storage and smart grid solutions to eliminate the need for external electricity suppliers.

4. Eco Wave Power

The Tel Aviv-based company’s proprietary technology extracts energy from ocean and sea waves and converts it into affordable, zero-emission renewable electric power. EWP has projects in various stages in the United Kingdom, Gibraltar, China, Chile, Israel and Mexico.

5. ElectRoad

ElectRoad of Rosh Ha’ayin, founded in 2013, is developing a smart transportation technology for underground electric coils that recharge EVs wirelessly as they travel. Its Dynamic Wireless Electrification System would initially be implemented for electric public buses. The revolutionary technology reduces the need for a large battery and for recharging or refueling the vehicle during the day.

6. Energiya Global

This Jerusalem-based renewable-energy developer will invest $1 billion over the next four years to advance green power projects across 15 West African countries. Energiya Global and its associated companies developed the first commercial-scale solar field in sub-Sahara Africa in Rwanda, and broke ground on a similar plant in Burundi that will supply 15% of the country’s power. Energiya Global now has fields at various stages of development in 10 African countries.

7. H2 Energy Now

H2 Energy Now is building a prototype battery-free solution for storing and increasing the usability of alternative energy from intermittent sources – sun and wind – to meet times of peak demand reliably. Radio waves separate water into hydrogen and oxygen and then recombine them in a fuel cell when energy is needed. H2 Energy Now is in the finals for several contests and is in talks with worldwide energy corporations.

In addition, the company was one of four winners of the AES Corporation’s 2017 Open Innovation Contest, held in Washington, DC, for designing a ceramic drone enabling unmanned inspection solutions for extreme heat environments in the global power industry.

8. New CO2 Fuels

Founded in 2011, NCF is raising funds toward a working model of its technology to transform two waste streams — industrial water and carbon dioxide — into a hydrogen-carbon monoxide synthetic gas, which is then turned into liquid fuels, plastics and fertilizer. The conversion process is fueled by concentrated solar energy or byproduct heat from the industries themselves. NCF signed a cooperative agreement with Sinopec Ningbo Engineering to address carbon dioxide pollution in China.

9. Solaris Synergy

Solaris Synergy of Jerusalem developed a solar-on-water power plant that converts a water surface into a cost-effective and reliable solar-energy platform. Solaris and Pristine Sun of San Francisco received a BIRD grant to collaborate on a utility-scale floating photovoltaic solar energy system to be installed in California. Last October, Solaris installed a 100kWp Floating PV system on a reservoir in Singapore. Recently, Solaris formed a partnership with Electra Energy to plan large projects in Israel.

10. StoreDot

Electric vehicles can never be mass marketed unless they have batteries that store a charge longer, weigh less and charge up faster. StoreDot of Herzliya concentrates on fast charging. In June, City A.M. ranked StoreDot No. 1 on its list of the 100 most disruptive startups in the world.

StoreDot is developing a pack for EVs comprised of hundreds of its proprietary EV FlashBattery cells. Together, the cells take only five minutes to charge fully and provide up to 300 miles (480 km) of driving distance. In addition, FlashBattery is environmentally safer than a lithium-ion battery, utilizing organic compounds and a water-based manufacturing process.

Ten Disruptive Israeli Companies that can Wean the World off Fossil Fuels

IsraAID emergency responders in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan. Photo courtesy Nufar Tagar / IsraAID

Helping communities not only to survive their trauma, but to sustain themselves into the future.

IsraAID, founded in 2001, is a humanitarian-aid organization committed to life-saving disaster relief and long-term support for areas hit by catastrophe. They are first on the scene, with a team of professional medics, search and rescue squads, post-trauma experts, and community mobilizers. 

The organization has been on the front lines of nearly every major humanitarian response of the twenty-first century, but their job does not end with immediate disaster relief. Among many other sites of recent relief missions are Nepal after the 2015 earthquakes; Oklahoma after the 2013 tornadoes; and the borders of Greece, Serbia, and Croatia, where they continue to assist with the many incoming refugees.

But IsraAID is also conducting ongoing long-term relief in such locations as Haiti, where they are helping to rebuild the country’s infrastructure after the horrific 2010 earthquake, and Kenya’s Kakuma Camp, which is thronging with more than 180,000 long-term refugees. IsraAID works to help communities not only to survive their trauma, but to sustain themselves into the future.

IsraAID >


IsraAID: First on the Scene Helping at Disasters Around the Globe

Zvi Bentwich, President of the NALA Foundation. Photo courtesy and ©  NALA Foundation

Public-health activist Zvi Bentwich has committed his life to combating AIDS in Israel and Africa.Zvi Bentwich was the first physician in Israel to deal extensively with AIDS. In the 1990s, his research demonstrated the link between immune-system deficiencies and intestinal parasites (often euphemistically termed “neglected tropical diseases,” or NTDs). He is a cofounder of the NALA Foundation, whose mission is to overcome poverty, cure NTDs, and fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

It boils down to being optimistic and believing that you can make a change. Like everything, you have to have the vision and to believe that it can happen.
— Zvi Bentwich

 Like many who are involved in humanitarian aid, Professor Bentwich hopes that someday his services will no longer be needed. As he explains, he is helping people to learn how to help themselves:

. . . Schistosomiasis is a water-borne disease; it is a typical example of how you can get infected when you don’t have health education or straightforward information about how not to get infected. It’s very simple: you get infected if you are exposed to where these parasites are. So if you go barefoot into a puddle or a stream, then you can get infected. If you know that you should not go barefoot, you cover your feet. It’s as simple as that.

You can do mass drug administration, but you also have to deal with the causes of the disease, with clean water and sanitation. Health education is also part and parcel of the treatment. If you work only with drugs, you will not get very far. Maybe the population will get better for a few months, but then they will get reinfected if they don’t understand what can be done to prevent getting infected again.

First we developed a survey and figured out what questions needed to be asked. And we recruited good partners in the area. We’ve had great success with a very impressive Ethiopian NGO called Rift Valley Children and Women Development, and with another NGO called OSSA, the Organization for Support Services for AIDS. They understood very quickly that what we were doing was a good thing.

When we did our survey in Mekelle, Ethiopia to our surprise, we found that in a third of the communities that we surveyed, between 80 and 100 percent had this infection. And we saw that the geographic distribution of the infections fitted with parts of Mekelle and the surrounding area that had problems with the water supply. The children were going into streams that were highly infested with these parasites. So the percentages made sense.

So we started intervening. We worked with the local health and education systems, parent-teacher associations, women’s groups, and other groups within the community. In addition, we sent over volunteer delegations, mainly from Ben-Gurion University, who focused on health education and hygiene activities. They worked with local students from Mekelle University and empowered them to initiate advocacy projects so the word would go out to all the schools in the city. Israel’s MASHAV helped too: they invested in the construction of new latrines.

One thing has led to another, and we’ve had dramatic results.  We watched the level of infection go down—at first from 80–90 percent down to 20 percent, and later to less than 5 percent. Changing habits can be a very difficult thing. It boils down to being optimistic and believing that you can make a change. Like everything, you have to have the vision and to believe that it can happen.

NALA Foundation >

Center for Emerging Tropical Diseases and AIDS at Ben-Gurion University >


Zvi Bentwich of the NALA Foundation: New Approaches to AIDS and Other Diseases

A child learns about the importance of hand washing in a NALA Foundation workshop in Ethiopia. Photo courtesy Sahar Gamliel / NALA Foundation

The NALA Foundation’s mission is to overcome poverty, cure neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), and fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. The NALA Foundation has treated many people and dramatically reduced infection rates. It has been awarded the prestigious Grand Challenges Award for innovative ideas in public health (funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation).

NALA’s mission is to overcome poverty, cure neglected tropical diseases, and fight AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria.

In addition, working together with the United Nations World Food Program, the NALA Foundation has started treating people living with HIV in Ethiopia. Zvi Bentwich, president of the foundation, explains “Our strategy in Ethiopia, right from the beginning, has been to start with a survey to find out what the situation is, the prevalence of infection, and what are the attitudes, practices, and knowledge of the people. You then have to train the trainers—on site, in Ethiopia—because of course we can’t be there forever.”

NALA Foundation >  

Center for Emerging Tropical Diseases and AIDS at Ben-Gurion University >

The NALA Foundation: New Answers for Diseases

Naty Barak, Chief of Sustainability, Netafim. Photo courtesy Netafim

Naty Barak, Chief of Sustainability at the pioneering company Netafim describes Israel’s role in launching an irrigation technology that has revolutionized agriculture around the world. 

A Startup in a Kibbutz

In Hebrew, we say that we’re talking to farmers ‘at eye level’: farmer to farmer.
— Naty Barak, Chief of Sustainability, Netafim

When I was young, I was very idealistic. I moved from my home in Haifa to Kibbutz Hatzerim in 1964, along with a group of other young people. We were all farmers, but we weren’t having much success because of water shortage and the high salinity of the soil. The idea for Netafim came in 1965. We had been looking for an industry as a focal point, and we’d set up some guidelines for what we wanted. For one thing, we wanted it to be connected to agriculture. We needed something that would not require too much labor: the idea was to find work for fourteen kibbutz members.(Today we have nearly three thousand employees, all over the world.

Simcha Blass Has an Idea

It was Simcha Blass who moved the idea of drip irrigation forward. Once, Simcha saw a long row of trees that had obviously all been planted at the same time—and yet one of them was far bigger than the others. He was curious and went to see what the reason was. He discovered a water pipe that had a crack in it, and it was leaking near the tree, slowly, drop by drop. On the surface of the ground, there was just a limited circle that was a little bit wet, and the rest of the soil was dry. When he started digging, he saw that underground the wet area became wider, and that there were a lot of roots.

This gave him the idea. That was in the late 1930s. But he kept the idea in his head for years, until affordable plastic piping was introduced, and in the 1960s he started to do experiments in his backyard with the drip system. A few years later, a brilliant engineer developed the next generation of drippers for us. Today, the tiny plastic dripper has many functions built into it. It’s pressure-compensated, which means that it will always deliver exactly the same amount of water, regardless of distance from the water source; it’s self-cleaning; and it has all kinds of clog-prevention and non-leakage mechanisms.

  To give you an idea of what it all means: I’ve worked a lot in the Arava Desert. The rainfall there can sometimes be as little as twenty millimeters per year. But today it’s a rich agricultural area, largely because of drip irrigation.

Helping to Irrigate the World

Today, Netafim has thirteen manufacturing plants all over the world: in California, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, two plants in India (and we are thinking about a third one), three plants in Israel, one in Turkey—and so on. Wherever you have agriculture, you have drip irrigation. It helps in growing tea in Tanzania, sugarcane in the Philippines, potatoes in China, etcetera.

We’re involved—along with several other irrigation companies—in the Andhra Pradesh Micro Irrigation Project in India, helping farmers to enhance their crop yield and save water. We also donated drip-irrigation systems to a foundation in Oklahoma, and they in turn gave them to a military base in Afghanistan; now they are bringing Afghan farmers into the base to teach them how to use drip irrigation. 

On a smaller scale, we have developed what we call the “Family Drip System” for small farmers in developing countries. It’s gravity-based, so you don’t need electricity. All you need is to put a tank on an elevated stage, fill it with water, mix it with the right nutrients, open the valve and shut the valve—and it will irrigate five hundred square meters, which is a small farm for a family. Training is very important, of course. But if the farmers do it right, the increased yield is amazing, and the return on investment is in less than one year. We’ve distributed these in Kenya and elsewhere.

In reaching out to farmers in other places, we try to work collaboratively. We don’t say: “We came from Mount Sinai. We invented drip irrigation; do what we tell you and you’ll be successful.” That’s the wrong attitude. We say: “Listen, you have been growing tomatoes in this region for generations—you and your father and your grandfather—so you must know a lot about growing tomatoes. We know something about drip irrigation; we are working in the Arava with tomato growers . . . so let’s bring our skills together.” And whether we are talking to a Chinese farmer who has one tiny parcel of land, or a cotton-farm manager in Arizona who wears $2,000 lizard-skin boots, we talk to both of them the same way. We give them the same respect. In Hebrew, we say that we’re talking to farmers “at eye level”: farmer to farmer. 

Netafim >

Naty Barak of Netafim: “We Know Something About Drip Irrigation”