Israelis at the forefront of the green industry

Israelis at the forefron

By ISAAC BERZIN, ALAN LEIFER
October 27, 2009 09:15
3 minute read.

In last week's Presidential Conference in Jerusalem, President Shimon Peres declared that Israel's brain power "has no borders," and called for Israel to serve as a "global laboratory for pioneers" in five critical areas - clean energy, water use, biotechnology, education and internal security. Israel has already begun bringing these areas together to create the modern algae-to-energy business. This summer's emergence of algae farming as the hot topic in global biofuels is beginning to transform the image of "pond scum" into "green crude." And that mental image of green gushers may help rally governments worldwide to take economic risks for environmental sustainability. Last month, US President Barack Obama gave his first speech on global warming at the UN Summit on Climate Change. It was a call to mobilize the political will needed to forge a global agreement on curbing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change. Now the world is awaiting word of what America and China - emitters of 40 percent the globe's greenhouse gasses - are willing to do. China needs the freedom to use more energy and food to move its growing population into the middle class. America is looking for enhanced energy security and economic stimulus from clean technology. Our research indicates that the farming and processing of algae will be the first large-scale industry to tackle all these problems successfully, and without the need for ongoing government subsidies. TODAY, TEAMS of Israeli cleantech scientists and engineers are inventing the tools necessary to make deserts bloom with energy crops while mitigating the worst of the electric power industry's greenhouse gas emissions. They are combining their cutting-edge knowledge of biochemistry, water management, desert agriculture and solar power to create this new industry. We believe that algae farming in the US holds the promise of recycling one-fifth of its electric power industry's greenhouse gas emissions, slashing its need for imported oil by 2 million barrels a day, and spinning off significant quantities of sustainable feed for growing fish and livestock to support the caloric needs of the world's 6.5 billion people. And the opportunities are even greater in China. Algae is one of the world's fastest-growing plants, and can thrive without fresh water or fertile land. Unlike many other biofuel feedstocks, it would avoid conflict with food production and rain forest conservation. And, of course, algae eat CO2 in vast quantities. Solar energy turns two tons of CO2 into one ton of algae. And the industry is learning to stand on its own two feet. As President Obama spoke at the UN, the experimental vehicle Algaeus rolled into New York City. The Algaeus's 10-day inaugural trek showcased the ability to use today's automotive technology - hybrid engines and algae-derived energy - to cross North America on 25 gallons of fuel, getting 148 miles per gallon. The trip served as the capstone to the "Summer of Algae," when energy giants Exxon Mobil, Pinnacle West and Dow Chemical each teamed up with corporate, university and government scientists to announce the launch of nearly a billion dollars' worth of algae farming projects. None of this would have been possible without the toolkit developed by Israeli scientists and entrepreneurs. We endorse President Peres' call for taking Israel's scientific leadership to the next level. There is no time to waste. Isaac Berzin is a senior faculty member of the Lauder School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya. In 2008, he was named one of the most influential people in politics, business and science by Time magazine. Alan Leifer is a senior research fellow at the Lauder School, and is the former portfolio manager of the Fidelity Contrafund. This month IDC and Tufts University of Boston jointly launched a research project, Algae - to Be or Not to Be.


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