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On the waterfront by: Sara K. Eisen


With a hosepipe ban in full force in some parts of the UK already this summer, and the threat of stand pipes on street corners a real possibility as the drought worsens, Israel is setting standards in developing new water technologies that nations like Britain will be looking to as clean water sources become scarcer throughout the century.

Israel, an arid country with rainfall only six months of the year, has been at the forefront of water conservation technologies since it was founded in 1948. Already famous for bringing the world agro-tech drip irrigation, Israel has set up 31 desalination facilities across the country, including the world's largest, which is operating in Ashkelon.  Israel's Water Commission anticipates that Israel will consume 20% desalinated water by 2010.
In addition, 75% of Israel's water is recycled after use, well ahead of any other country on the globe; sewage recycling like the Shafdan project in the country's centre, which cleans the 'grey water' from the Gush Dan (greater Tel Aviv) region, provides the agricultural sector with 30% of its water.

Now, Israel is seeing an upsurge of incubator-grown companies devoted to finding solutions to Coleridge's now pressing poetic prophecy, "Water, water, everywhere, but not a drop to drink."

Kinarot - Jordan Valley Technology Incubator is Israel's first and only incubator with a new portfolio consisting only of water management technologies. The incubator, which was recently purchased by Canadian businessman Ronald Stern's SPI Group for close to $25 million (over three years) in a deal co-brokered by Mekorot National Water Company Chairman Baruch 'Booky' Oren, has for some years nurtured portfolio companies with a heavy bio-tech slant.

While several of the emerging companies on Kinarot's all-liquid list are still under wraps, two of them, MagSens and PML, are poised to lead Israel in the quest to clean the world's water.

MagSens, founded by Uri Rapoport, has developed a fully automated online RF (electromagnetic) sensor, to be installed at several points in the water-flow process, which can detect even the minutest concentration of contaminating materials in the conducted water. This allows for constant, non-invasive and real-time monitoring of water sources and pipes from harmful chemicals, which poses a solution not only for environmental and industrial toxins, but also for homeland security concerns.

PML, founded by Professor Joseph Shamir, a laser and electro-optics expert, has created a new generation of super filters, using online laser-based particle size analysers. Useful also for the optimum production of cement and pharmaceuticals, the automated particle analysers will replace the time and energy consuming process of lab testing, allowing the detection of solids like lime deposits in water, and also, incredibly, of sub-micron objects like viruses.

Online, ad hoc detection of these particles at every stage of conduction will conserve an enormous amount of power, says Dr. Meir Teichner, general manager of the Kinarot incubator. "Better quality water saves energy," he adds, mentioning that 15 % of Israel's electricity goes to Mekorot's water-conducting pumps, "The mechanism can shift into high and low gear according to need, without generalisations, and filter appropriately." The company estimates its global market potential at well over 500 hundred thousand pounds.

For companies in the Kinarot incubator, Mekorot also serves as the beta testing site for their water technologies Eventually, says Teichner, some pilot testing will shift to Kinarot's convenient Jordan Valley backyard - the Sea of Galilee.
The overwhelming trend towards materials-based clean technology, as opposed to the once prevalent use of chemicals, is echoed by Nir Belzer, senior partner at the Tel-Aviv based Millennium Materials Technologies (MMT) Fund. He points out that there are 600 Israeli companies selling cleantech solutions, 50% of which are start ups. Although not exclusively devoted to water tech, MMT's portfolio is focused on using materials, like specialised filters, to purify air and water, and producing sources of renewable energy with drastically reduced emissions.

An additional area of water solutions in MMT's plans is the management of municipal leakage. This is a significant problem in Britain and the rest of Europe, where an aging infrastructure is blamed for leaks of up to 60% of the water flowing into city systems. In Britain these leaks are causing outrage amongst householders facing water shortages and hefty bills. Water waste prevention and reuptake is a major feature of cleantech products and processes.

Advancing this massive industry push is a non-profit organization called Waterfronts Israel Water Alliance, whose mission is to promote advanced R&D and marketing of Israeli technologies for water treatment. Established in September, the lobby represents the interests of Israel's developing water technology sector, bringing everyone into the pool - from academia and incubators, to VC funds, private investors, water tech companies, the Manufacturers Association of Israel, Israel's Water Association, the National Nanotechnology Committee, and Mekorot.

Teichner is enthusiastic about Waterfronts, and says that the public confidence it creates in Israel's ability to lead with its water solutions, as well as the new general awareness about what this sector is doing, has produced a certain momentum which will encourage further government and other funding.

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