(photo credit: Courtesy of Albatross)
Israel’s ample natural gas reserves can create more than just a valuable energy
supply for Israel and the countries that may import the resource, experts said
at a forum on Wednesday.
Because Israel’s natural gas is mostly made up
of methane, the hydrocarbon substance can be used in various outlets within the
chemical and transportation industries, a use that is already occurring in other
OECD countries, explained Dr. Bracha Halaf, the senior manager of oil
replacement at the Energy and Water Ministry. Halaf was speaking at the
“French-Israeli Seminar on Natural Gas in Israel: Issues and Forecast” event
held in Tel Aviv on Wednesday morning and organized by the French Embassy to
Israel, The Israeli Institute for Economic Planning and the Energy and Water
Ministry, with sponsorship by Technip, an oil and gas industry provider for
project management, engineering and construction headquartered in
In the chemical industry, the natural gas could be transformed
into things like naphtha, a chemical used in industrial solvents and cleaning
fluids, shoe polish, lighter fluid and other modes; feedstock for ammonia-based
fertilizers; olefins; formaldehyde; and acetic acid, according to
Halaf. In the chemical industry as a whole, 85 percent of all chemicals
are produced from 20 simple chemicals called base chemicals and these are
produced from 10 raw materials – which include oil, natural gas and other
resources, she explained.
For the transportation sector, the natural gas
could be used to generate LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), jet fuel, diesel,
hydrogen gas, CNG/LNG (compressed natural gas/liquefied natural gas), gasoline
and biodiesel, among other things, she said. Particularly CNG and methanol are
both readily available from natural gas and can be economically valuable
technologies, as well as generate many new jobs, she added.
“It can open
a new era for the Israeli chemical industries,” Halaf said, calling natural gas
for Israel a “gateway to the future.” The ministry, she said, is currently
providing grants of up to $500,000 for demonstration projects that explore new
ways of making use of natural gas. One such project currently taking place is
that of Dor Chemicals, which is conducting a motor vehicle field trial run using
a mixture containing 85% gasoline and 15% methanol – M15, according to Halaf.
This could introduce methanol as mode of transportation for both Israel and
other countries, she said. Meanwhile, a company named Engineuity is
experimenting with the production of diesel (Syngas) from methane.
Israel is comparatively a latecomer to the natural gas field, Halaf said that
the government hopes “to learn from the experience gained by other countries”
and create international partnerships, while allowing Israel to “serve as a test
At the moment, Israel is using 90% of its natural gas supply toward
generating electricity, but with the heavily increased supply, it could do
particularly well to consider using some for transportation purposes, agreed
Ariella Berger, the head of oil-alternatives research at the Israel Institute
for Economic Planning.
“Currently, it’s fair to say that transport is
very much monopolized by one fuel source – this is not just in Israel, of
course,” she said. “Oil dependence is a global issue. Nearly all transportation
is based on oil and transportation is what drives commerce and the commerce
drives the global economy.”
If Israel continues to work on technologies
that could turn natural gas into fuel for vehicles, it could therefore decrease
oil dependence domestically and around the globe, according to
Prof. Eugene Kandel, the head of the National Economic Council of
the Prime Minister’s Office, had a similar opinion, stressing that Israel should
be “a catalyst of changing the world dependence on oil.”
In 2010, Israel
imported $8.6 billion worth of oil, and of that, $5 billion went into
transportation, she explained. Every billion cubic meters of natural gas in
transportation could potentially save Israel $370 million every year on its
crude oil bill, she said.
While of course electricity costs in general
could be cut by using natural gas in place of oil, employing it to run huge
operations like desalination plants could save additional costs and thereby
generate cheaper water, Berger added.
She cautioned, however, that the
infrastructure for handling natural gas in Israel is still quite underdeveloped
at the moment.
“It’s important to keep in mind that Israel is very much a
newcomer to the field of natural gas,” Berger said.