Asphalt additive said to double the lifespan of roads

After its progress was slowed amid Ehud Olmert’s alleged improprieties, Dimona Silica has now won a $6 million order to pave a Chinese highway.

By YUVAL AZULAI/GLOBES
April 21, 2011 22:20
4 minute read.
Asphalt road

Asphalt 311. (photo credit: Reuters)

 
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Dimona Silica Industries Ltd. has developed a proprietary asphalt mix for improving roads, which the company hopes will do for it what Copaxone did for Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., what phosphates did for Israel Chemicals Ltd. and what drip irrigation technology did for Netafim Ltd.

Dimona Silica’s iBind Mix involved the company in Israel’s murky politics, suspicions, and investigations. In 2004, the company was one of the targets of the Investment Promotions Center scandal that involved allegedly improper approvals by then minister of industry, trade and labor Ehud Olmert and his relations with his right-hand man Uri Messer.

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State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss investigated the affair, and found that Messer opened the door for Dimona Silica founder Ephraim Feinblum to Olmert, who would go on to become prime minister and end his career amid corruption allegations.

In 2004, Dimona Silica needed Olmert’s help because the Investment Promotions Center’s director, Shmuel Mordechai, had reservations about the viability of the venture. No viability, no grant, Mordechai said.

Dimona Silica’s problems began when Olmert intervened and promised the venture a $10 million grant under the Law for the Encouragement of Capital Investments. Olmert’s decision and conduct were subsequently placed under a magnifying glass.

Ultimately, Feinblum handed the reins of Dimona Silica to his son-in-law, Ronen Peled. “We never received most of the grant, and we survived only thanks to money from foreign investors,” Peled told Globes.

“One day, I was sitting in my office and looked at a poster of a car tire on the road, and wondered what would happen if we added silicate to the asphalt preparation process in order to extend the lifespan of tires. I, with no background in chemistry, thought that this would be either genius or idiocy. I didn’t know then that this idea would drive the company forward.”

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The company’s Russian investors were skeptical. Peled said, “They laughed amongst themselves, saying in Russian, ‘See, another one who thinks he’s a chemist.’”

Shortly afterwards, chemical experts from the Technion came to Dimona Silica’s plant for a detailed briefing of the concept. They said that it was necessary to examine the mix and its durability, read the professional literature, and work long hours in the lab.

The initial results came a year later, and the news was good. The new additive is based on a mineral deposit found at Nahal Zinn in the Negev and nowhere else in the world. The additive can double the lifespan of an asphalt road, make the driving experience quieter. The asphalt preparation process is more environmentally friendly than regular asphalt because there is no need to heat the asphalt to a high temperature and it cuts emissions of pollutants by 30%. The result is a substantial reduction in costs.

Dimona Silica moved quickly, registered a global patent for its iBind Mix, conducted a series of intensive tests, and paved roads in field tests under the supervision of the Israel Standards Institution.

The Russian investors were regularly updated on the developments, and sent back comments that only satisfied people make.

Peled said, “A crust formed over the wound. The Investment Promotions Center scandal almost killed us, even though we had nothing to do with it. Who would have believed it! We got back on our feet. We’re now looking forward, we want to think about the past as little as possible, especially the bad parts.”

Dimona Silica has already won its first tender, worth $6 million, to pave a road in China. After the pilot on the first road paved with iBind Mix in Israel, Peled said, “This was a historic moment. The mix was perfect. Everyone who drives on this stretch of road will feel the difference. There is simply no noise.”

Dimona Silica is now talking about innovative and breakthrough products based on its proprietary mix and about global markets, ongoing tests of its mix in Europe and the US, and the company’s new factory that will be built within four months in Dimona. The new plant will have a production line and employ at least 50 more people, residents of the Negev.

“The sky’s the limit. We've got something and we have no intention of missing it,” says Peled. “We have more obstacles to pass. We never received most of the government grant. Now that the material is shown to work and is viable from any perspective, there is no reason not to release the money to us. There is no reason for not building here the first production line of the chemicals products industry in Israel for export. We have something to offer, and it will only do good for Dimona and the south.”

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