Israel poised to reap benefits of bio-diesel research

'Over and above the plants themselves, there are also the protocols for enriching the earth and dealing with plant diseases.'

corn 88 (photo credit: )
corn 88
(photo credit: )
One effort that epitomizes Israel's emerging stature as a clean technology wizard is the bio-diesel project at the Agriculture Ministry's Volcani Center. The Center just signed a NIS 33 million contract with Isaac Kattan to produce two types of plants which can be converted into bio-diesel. The project has no chance of being implemented in Israel, however, because it requires vast tracts of land. Nevertheless, Prof. Yedidya Gafni, project manager, told The Jerusalem Post Monday that it was uniquely suited to Israel. "Our advantage is the technology, the agricultural science, where we are among the best in the world. It is not that the US and Europe don't have the capabilities, but the US developed soy fuels, and Europe canola fuels. So they don't have the knowledge that we do of these plants," Gafni explained. Over and above the plants themselves, there are also the protocols for enriching the earth and dealing with plant diseases, which Israel is uniquely suited to address, he continued. "We initiated the project and private companies all over the world are interested. We just signed a contract with the Kattan group, but there is also a Brazilian company which is interested and a group from Indonesia," Gafni told the Post. Isaac Kattan has paid NIS 33 m., a very large sum in agricultural circles according to Gafni, for the rights to market the plants worldwide for twenty years. The research is supposed to take four years. Gafni started the project four or five years ago by assessing profitability and which plants to use. "The two plants [in our project] are not food plants. Food plants backfired. We invested a year-and-a-half in a profit assessment and biology assessment. We chose these plants because they are plants that can grow in marginal lands, they are hardy and are suitable for growth in the Third World. "They need lots of water, land, and cheap labor, which make them much more suitable to grow in the Third World. Moreover, countries want such investments because it provides their citizens with income, admittedly not a very high income, but better than none," Gafni said. Despite its limited local capability , the project has several advantages for Israel, Gafni insisted. "First off, everything that weakens the standing of the oil [producing] countries, even psychologically, is good for Israel. Second, let's not forget about royalties. It's not like we will develop the plants and then that's it. "Finally, and this is really a fringe benefit, there is the prestige and PR value for Israel. We can show the world that we don't just invent guns. I admit that I am much prouder of an Israeli Nobel Prize laureate than an Israeli gun manufacturer," he said. Gafni also felt compelled to put the project in perspective. "This won't solve the oil crisis. Most of the world's oil does not go to cars. The solution has to be a mixed solution. Solar energy is more of an answer, or geothermal, nuclear or wind. Bio-diesel is to put in cars. "Even then, it is has to be a mixture of oil and bio-diesel. You can add up to 20% without having to change the engine. Still, 20% is huge," he said. While Israelis may eventually start putting a mixture of gas and bio-diesel in their cars, long before then the country may very well reap the rewards of its pioneering projects.