Good News from Israel



   
    June 2008            
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What's New in Israel

By Maxwell Hellmann

Garbage Dump Reclaimed as Eco-Park, Tel-Aviv

         Israel is at it again.  In what is said to be the largest green initiative to date, it has undertaken the task of converting Hiriya, what was once an enormous dump on the outskirts of Tel-Aviv, into a 2,000 acre park and "eco-tourism" destination for travelers from around the globe.  Upon completion, it will be one of the world's largest metropolitan parks, more than twice the size of New York City's Central Park. 

        For decades the spot served as Tel-Aviv's garbage dump, both an ecological and an aesthetic blight.  At its center sat Hiriyah Mountain, a  towering pile of trash, well over two hundred feet tall.  Though mostly abandoned since 1952, it continued to receive truckloads of waste on a regular basis.  However, after massive revitalization efforts it reemerged as Alayon Park, a 24 hour destination for Israelis complete with hiking trails, bicycle paths, an "inner oasis," and a state-of-the-arts recycling center where visitors can learn about the work being done there.

        According to the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel, "Park Ayalon will become the major green space for the entire Tel Aviv region, a green lung that Tel Aviv desperately needs as it's air pollution fatalities climb annually. The park represents long overdue compensation to local residents for years of suffering a landfill in their backyard, and will strengthen awareness of environmental issues." 

        Hiriyah Mountain, now "healed" and free of harmful chemicals, features terraced gardens, a pond with shady spots for visitors, as well as a magnificent view of Tel-Aviv and its surrounding areas of the Dan region.  The park also boasts horseback riding, a zoo, and picnic areas.  An expanse of natural scenery surrounds the mountain, with pockets of native plants and self-sustainable micro-ecosystems. One of these "gardens" is located by the visitor center.  The beautiful aquatic garden - complete with lilies, papyrus, and other species - not only serves for the enjoyment of the visitors, but also treats sewage.  The microorganisms which thrive on the plants' roots breaks down toxins in the water, which can then be used for irrigation. 

        At the visitors center, located at the foot of Hiriya mountain, almost everything is made from recycled materials - even the building itself.  Trash still arrives at Park Alayon daily, but is now sorted in the 75 acre recycling center, which claims to prevent 90% of municipal waste from ending up in landfills.  Natural gas is harvested from the mountain itself and sold to nearby businesses.  At various lecture and workshops, visitors have the opportunity to learn from experts about the process of recycling and how to change their habits to protect the environment.  

        Projected to be completed in 2020, Park Alayon, which gets its name from the Ayalon river flowing through the heart of the park, has already opened many of its facilities, gardens, and trails to visitors.  The park will become a destination for tourists and Israelis alike and serve as an example of the steps Israel has taken in greening its environmental impact.

 

"Diet Beef" from Israel

        In what can be seen as a step towards healthier living, or perhaps just a smart business move, an Israeli Kibbutz is now breeding a line of "diet" beef for consumption.  Israeli agricultural company Sion and Kibbutz Neve Or imported the bull from Belgium to produce a herd of "Diet Bulls" with a fat content of 7 percent, versus the typical 30-35 percent fat in regular beef.  Today, 95% of the Holstein dairy cattle in Israel are inseminated daily by Sion technicians.

        Israel is a central intersection of cattle sperm import and export thanks to the local investment in genetic cultivation of cattle farms. In recent years Israel has exported large amounts of cattle sperm to Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda.

        The concept for "diet beef" was formally introduced and made available for purchase at the recent Agritech 2009 International Agriculture Exhibition, which took place May 5-7 in Tel Aviv.  Currently, there is only one herd of such cattle in Israel, including 80 female cows and calves.  One kilo of the blue bull's meat is sold for NIS 18, compared with NIS 15 for hybrid veal meat.

 

Agritech Expo in Tel-Aviv Hopes to Combat World Hunger

        Summers highs of 113 degrees Fahrenheit aren't particularly ideal for raising dairy cows or growing cherry tomatoes.  Yet over the past 60 years, Israeli farmers have managed to irrigate the desert and overcome such impediments.  Israeli entrepreneurs, innovators, and researchers have developed new methods of farming and technology to cope with whatever climate you can think of.  Getting the dessert to bloom has required collaboration on all fronts, special software, drip irrigation, integrate pest control, world-class greenhouses, creativity, and a lot of hard work.

        At the 17th international agricultural exhibition at the beginning of May, Agritech 09, the country was able to show off the fruits of its labor.  The expo hosted an expected three thousand guests including 25 ministerial and 80 commercial delegations, as well as over 200 companies being showcased from around the world.  In addition, the exhibition was expecting up to 15,000 Israelis and foreign visitors.  

        "Israeli technologies cover just about whatever you may think of," says Arie Regev, Agritech co-chair and director of foreign relations for Israel's Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. "There will be irrigation technology, monitor control equipment, milking parlor equipment, assisting equipment, computers, monitors and software."

        Among the various categories, the majority of companies in the exhibition were working in crops or livestock.  While agritech products do come from other Western counties, such as Holland, Regev believes that Israel has a distinct advantage.

        "Israel is having, keeping and maintaining modern advanced agriculture in arid and semiarid conditions where water constraints are very imminent and strong, and where temperature and humidity is high," he says. "Many of our solution for crops or for livestock provide solutions to alleviate this problem, making growing crops and raising livestock easier, better, and more efficient.  And, yes, more humane concerning animal husbandry." 

        "For decades the Israeli agriculture industry has served as a laboratory for all these new technologies.  Israel exports about $2 billion per year of agritech products, almost double its fresh produce exports," Regev says. 

        Exhibitors, listed on the Agritech website, include well-known and lesser known names from around the globe, not only including innovators, but companies with a hand in distributing solutions around the world.  Agrolan, an Israeli company, is distributing a product for use in agriculture that was originally designed to monitor ground humidity for NASA's spaceship Phoenix.

        On Mars, the sensors were attached to the spacecraft in order to identify water.  Dan Meiri, general manager of Agritech, believes this technology is equally useful on earth.  Agrolan's technology measures soil humidity for farmers and transmits the data to a specific website where they can monitor the timing and quantity of irrigation, he says.  He is working on another innovation as well; farmers will be able to call weather stations and get reports of the conditions on the farm.

        Sure to Grow, an American company based in North Carolina which participated in the event, offers a safer and more effective growing medium. The  technology has its origins in a material called fiberfill, commonly known as pillow stuffing.  Under the guidance of polymer chemists, hydroponic consultants, and expert growers and manufacturers, they were able to develop a "unique growing substrate that has superb water retention capacity, tremendous aeration, and is suitable for use in a wide variety of horticulture growing systems," the company says.

        Along with the expo, Agritech 09 featured a conference Feeding the Future, bringing together some of the world's best minds with the hopes of coming up with new ways to tackle global food shortages.  "The conference," said organizers, "is a unique and unprecedented occasion in which experts from Israel and worldwide will join efforts to provide analyses for creating a more even equilibrium between supply and demand of quality food for all."

           Among those offering their expertise at the conference were Gilbert Houngbo, Prime Minister of Togo and former UN Development Program director for Africa; Dr. Tefera Deribew, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Israel's Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Agriculture - Dr. Yuval Eshdat, as well as Dr. Will Martin, a research manager for The World Bank.

        Israel has a long history of transfer of agricultural technology to the rest of the world, as well as specifically to developing countries for humanitarian aid. Israel's low-pressure drip-irrigation systems for arid countries, an aquaculture enterprise in Uganda, dairy farms it has helped establish in Eastern Europe, and Israeli rural development undertaking in Angola are a few successes that Israel has had.  And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

        Professor Ayal Kimhi of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who spoke at the conference, said that in Angola, an Israeli company has been building villages as a means of production for farmers and a cooperative system.  The project has been so successful that the region has experienced a boom in growth.

       "In Israel, we have a foreign ministry and a ministry of agriculture working to specifically find ways for Israeli technology to help other countries," said Kimhi, who is also Israel's director of research, at the Center for Agricultural Economic Research. "Doing this kind of work helps to broaden people's perception of Israel, seeing that it's a superpower in technology, not just a land from the bible or what you see on CNN." 

        Israel's Agritech Exhibition is expected to yield business transactions worth about $40 million over the next three years, according to David Arzi, chairman of the board at the Israel Institute for Export and International Cooperation. Currently about 45% of Israel's agricultural exports head to Europe, 20% to the US, 16% to South America and 11% to Asia, according to the Israel Export Institute.  Though Arzi expects a drop in exports as a result of the global economic crisis, he expects to see a recovery in demand by 2010, due to food and water shortages worldwide.  

       "The global crisis opens a window of opportunity for Israeli companies" says Oded Distel, head of ISRAEL NEWTECH - the National Water Technology Program at the Investment Promotion Center of the Ministry of Industry Trade and Labor.  Distel added, "The world's governments have ceased investing in ambitious advanced projects for water improvement, efficiency and economy. This is a classic situation for Israeli companies which are blessed with adaptability, creativity and the ability to improvise." 

 

 

Back to the Bible for Alternative Fuel Advice

        Since biblical times, the olive branch has been a symbol of peace.  A new company based out of Herodion, Israel hope to reinvent the image of the olive branch as a symbol of hope too.

        In the hills outside Efrat, on the small Sde Bar farm, boys are working to lay out piles of olives to dry.  These boys, disadvantaged Israeli youth - many of whom were homeless until gathered by Yossi Sadeh - are changing the face of energy production.  They are creating Olivebar's environmentally sustainable pellets to heat homes in wood-burning stoves, an undertaking which general manager Eli Karniel calls "ecologically perfect."

        The rolls of pellets which they lay out to dry are made from the waste of pressed olives.  At the oil presses, gefet in Hebrew, the boys collect the pressed olives.  The material, rich in oil and superb for heating, would seep into the soil, rendering it infertile, if left behind.  In this simple act of gathering the olive waste, Olivebar, the innovative Israeli company, is helping keep the environment healthy and clean.

        But Karniel insists that Olivebar's effect is so much more.  Pellet stoves, which burn wood or biomass pellets to create a source of heat, burn slower than traditional stoves - lowering heating bills and giving reason enough to be labeled a "green" solution by environmentalists.  Yet a single cube of Olivebar rolls is said to produce almost 2.5 times the energy of a normal wood cube.

        The pellets come wrapped in recyclable paper that can also be used to light the oven.  Smoke released has no negative impact on the environment, and the ash left behind in the stove can even be used for fertilizing gardens and palnts.  Furthermore, Olivebar's rolls also fit in with steps around the globe to avoid cutting down trees for energy use.  "It's a totally green product, all natural, without any glues or chemicals," Karniel says.

        "Whereas once it was more economical to buy heating oil, today people are looking for all kinds of alternatives," Karniel explains. "People went over to wood, but now governments don't want people to cut down forests, so they're turning to natural alternatives like ours."

        Karniel is also proud of the project's Biblical roots - using olive waste for heating is mentioned in biblical texts. "We're going forward to our sources, instead of backwards," he notes. "It's a great feeling; you can really feel these ancient writings come alive." Arabs and Bedouins were also known to make use of the olive waste for heating.         

        As for the kids?  The boys of Sde Bar love working there, aware that the stuff is at the cutting edge of an energy revolution, Karniel explains. "They're proud to work in the factory because it helps support their activities, and they definitely compete for the chance to work there," says Karniel.  For now the company is focusing on Israel's periphery as well as countries in the Mediterranean basin, though it hopes to broaden its markets in the future.

 

Israeli Scientists Spice Up Chronic Pain Medicine

        What many people fear most about an operation is not the surgery itself, but the pain that comes with it afterwards.  Current pain medicines have a slew of side-effects, including dizziness, numbness, and loss of consciousness.  And unconventional alternatives just don't seem to cut it.  "The holy grail of any local anaesthetic treatment is to stop pain without causing any other effects,"  explains Dr. Alexander Binshtok, of Tel Aviv University's Sackler School of Medicine.  Judging by Binshtok's experiments, it seems he and his colleagues has finally come close to reaching that goal.

        For centuries, chili peppers have been known to have a variety of healing potential and were often prescribed for homeopathic usage to treat stomach aches or clear the sinuses.  Yet Binshtok and his colleagues found that by combining capsaicin, the chemical that makes chili peppers spicy, with QX-314, a derivative of the common local anaethesic licodaine, they were able to effectively block pain through targeting specific pain centers.

        This revolutionary approach may change the face of pain management.  Epidurals are just one example of changes that may come in the future.  As of now, epidural anaesthesia often affects the body to the point where a mother in labor cannot "push."  With Binshtok's hot new solution, Doctors could target the pain centers directly with the harmless chili pepper extract and the woman would be able to deliver the baby painlessly, eliminating the need for an epidural.

        Binshtok explains that it is still unclear why some people develop chronic pain and why others don't.  "Nobody knows what turns normal or protective pain to chronic or non-protective pain, and we don't yet understand the agents or molecules that turn normal into chronic pain."  He says that some people have a genetic disposition that makes them more resistant to pain and the development of chronic pain. 

        Binshtok began studying pain as an post-graduate student part of a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.  The team was able to block pain-sensing neurons in rats without harming other neurons, suggesting that some future solution was to come.  In the fall, he will begin directing his own pain research team.  

Israeli Researcher Develop "Washing Machine" for Detoxifying Dirty Dirt

        Despite all the negative media emanating from the "war-torn" land of Israel, the world is shown again and again that the power of ingenuity and innovation is survives all external conflict. For years it has been a country at the forefront of modern technology and has pioneered new developments and technologies for greening our environment and protecting our precious natural resources - a task which is of utmost importance in such a small country. Once more, Israel has shown that it has more to give to the world than just headaches with pacifying the Middle East.

        Researchers at Tel-Aviv University announced recently that they have found a method to detoxify "dirty" dirt. Chemicals and carcinogenic waste from industrial plants and land fills seep into the ground and turn otherwise pure soil unusable and dangerous. In an innovative new method, scientists discovered that by literally washing the toxic dirt in a cement truck "washing machine" they are able to cleanse the soil, removing the chemicals and leaving behind only the beneficial minerals. Several professors working in collaboration created this new cleaning agent which binds only to the toxic waste, ensuring that safe, healthy soil is left behind.

        "A cleaning agent of this nature is difficult to develop," says Dr. Michael Gozin, of TAU's School of Chemistry. He explains that in designing such a cleaning agent, it is important to be aware of its future effects on the environment. "Microorganisms, for example, are important," he says. "We don't want to kill them or remove the beneficial minerals and metals. Our advanced solution keeps all these factors in mind."

The formula, though still top-secret and in the early stages of development, has been said to be environmentally friendly, nontoxic, and biodegradable. While not yet ready for large-scale production, the formula will be ready in as few as three years, assuming a commercial partner is found.

Current ways of dealing with toxic soil are expensive, inefficient, and often ineffective. Though they may remove the chemicals, they also strip the soil of its most basic minerals, ultimately causing other problems down the line. With this new technique truckloads of soil could be washed and renewed quickly. Another example of Israeli creativity and innovation, this method will clean up our environment and save some money. Perhaps in a few years we will see this hitting the global markets.

~~~~~~~

from the June 2009 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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