Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, accompanied by Energy Minister Karin Elharrar, held a fascinating meeting with Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates on the sidelines of the COP26 conference in Glasgow on November 2, agreeing to establish a working group between Israel and the Gates Foundation in the area of climate change innovation.
Elharrar said she was pleased to meet the entrepreneur who established Breakthrough Energy Ventures to accelerate innovation in sustainable energy. “Israel can be a very strong power in the climate change battle, and I think a joint venture is really great news,” she said.
According to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office, Bennett and Gates discussed “the importance of recruiting the business sector in general and the hi-tech sector in particular in the global fight against the climate crisis.”
Bennett said that Israel is working toward regional cooperation with its neighbors in the energy and water fields, explaining that whereas other countries in the region have much land but a shortage of water, tiny Israel has the ability to generate energy that produces water.
“Israel is known as the Start-Up Nation and I think it’s time that we channel our national energy – which is the energy of the people – and our brainpower to fighting climate change,” Bennett told Gates. “We’re going to take this on as a national mission.”
Gates said: “My big belief is that we can solve climate change if we accelerate innovation. That’s really what Israel is known for, but not so much in the climate space.... Given the talent that you have and what we’ve seen in the digital space, how do we unleash more of that? So I’d love to take that R&D innovation push and figure out where Israel can partner with us.”
John (Candy) Cohen, a friend from Durban who lives in Ra’anana, alerted me to the fact that Gates said he was “very excited” to be working with H2Pro, an Israeli hi-tech company in which Cohen’s grandson, Gal Tamir, is in charge of the R&D system development group to produce low-cost green hydrogen.
“Obviously it’s a great honor to hear our company brought up in such an important gathering,” Tamir told me. “It was very exciting for us.”
Asked to explain the company’s revolutinary E-TAC method, Tamir said: “It’s a two-step process, the first being electrochemical where the hydrogen is produced, after which a chemical reaction takes place, producing oxygen. The overall reaction is splitting water to produce hydrogen and oxygen similar to conventional electrolyzers – however, much more efficiently.”
Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures led an investment of $22 million in H2Pro to advance its groundbreaking technology from the lab to the factory floor. H2Pro believes its E-TAC devices will enable it to produce the world’s cheapest green hydrogen, which is due to be a key element in decarbonizing industries such as steel and cement. “We definitely see a worldwide market for these devices,” said Talmon Marco, H2Pro’s CEO who co-founded the calling app, Viber (which was bought by Rakuten for $900 million in 2014) and the ride-hailing app Juno (which was bought by Gett for $200 million in 2017.)
But back to the Gates-Bennett meeting, where the best line came at the very start. Gates noted that both he and Bennett (who had a successful hi-tech career before entering politics) had realized that “innovation was the key” in their first careers. “Love that comparison!” Bennett interjected, laughing. It was a fitting response from a hi-tech whiz who is now the premier of our small nation of innovation.