Israel's "start-up nation" has nurtured an innovative crop of advanced water technology and cleantech start-ups. The innovative R&D at Israel’s universities and other academic institutions has provided a fertile platform enabling the country’s world-renowned high-tech sector to flourish and the eventual transformation of innovative ideas into marketable products.
Developing Water Solutions
With dwindling water resources in the region, Israel’s universities have traditionally dedicated major resources to R&D, in order to stretch the country’s limited supply. The Department of Soil and Water Sciences in the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agriculture in Rehovot has provided invaluable ideas for Israel’s agricultural development. Yissum, the technology transfer arm of the University, has developed novel sorbents for pollutant binding based on clay minerals which are modified with polymers in order to maximize pollutant binding to the clay.
Similarly, the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research at Ben Gurion University of the Negev’s Jacob Blaustein Institute of Desert in Sde Boker has led in water research in desert climes. The Stephen and Nancy Grand Water Research Institute at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa has pioneered R&D in water science, technology, engineering, and management. Meanwhile Mekorot, the Technion and Canadian company Real-Tech are developing systems to combat water terrorism.
By working with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Organization – The Volcani Center, academic ideas have often been converted into practical water solutions.
Historically, concepts became products via each university’s technology transfer companies. In recent years Israel’s growing spirit of entrepreneurship has made technological incubators the favored vehicle for developing start-up ideas.
Incubators Hatch New Water Technologies
One such technological incubator is Hutchison Kinrot, which was acquired by Hutchison Ventures in 2013 and based in Netanya has a franchise from the Office of the Chief Scientist to run the technological incubator until 2021.
Kinrot’s start-up portfolio in water technologies includes: Aquarius Spectrum, which develops municipal remote monitoring of water and leak detection solutions; Diffusaire, which is developing an energy saving technology for the wastewater industry; SPC Tech, which is developing sophisticated pressure control products; and HydroSpin Monitoring Solutions, which is developing self hydro-powered water monitoring solutions.
Other start-ups-ups at Kinrot include Wadis, which is developing water disinfection solutions, FiltoFlex, which is developing fine filtration media, while TACount is developing a near real time sensor for detection of reproducible microorganisms and WellToDo is developing a method for the removal of nitrate from water by direct conversion to nitrogen. Solex Water treats wastewater from the oil and gas industry.
Other water technology start-ups include Bio Pure Technology (BPT), which has developed a line of chemically stable nanofiltration membranes, while SWDP has developed solutions for urban and industrial wastewater problems based physio-chemical treatment. TreaTec21 develops and markets advanced water purification solutions including the EFector system for the innovative treatment of municipal and industrial wastewater. TakaDu monitors water pipes for utilities, and Leviathan Energy strives to provide clean energy from sea waves.
Increasingly VC and investment funds have also begun investing in water technologies. These include Israel Cleantech Ventures, Shari Arison’s MIYA water venture, Gaon Agro Industries AquAgroFund, Shaked Global Group and others.
During the course of developing a pilot project, many water technology start-ups find a beta-site with Mekorot Israel’s national water company. WaTech Entrepreneurship & Partnership Center for Water Technologies offers early stage entrepreneurs beta site and commercial platforms, technology analysis and support, access to global markets, and assistance with strategic partnerships and capital. WaTech also offers more mature water technology vendors the opportunity to enter into commercial arrangements and joint projects with Mekorot.
For investors, the WaTech initiative provides their portfolio companies with a commercial platform, and ongoing business and technical expertise. The relationship with Mekorot - a strong, reputable customer and partner with an annual balance sheet of $3 billion - helps lower the risk profile of water technology companies.
Lesico Cleantech, which specializes in acquiring and accelerating the commercialization of innovative, next-generation high recovery systems and zero liquid discharge technologies. The company has developed a novel electro-dialysis method that provides superior performance in a number of desalination applications. Aqwise is a pioneer in the development and implementation of advanced wastewater treatment solutions for the industrial and municipal markets. Aqwise’s proprietary family of solutions significantly increases the capacity and efficiency of existing wastewater treatment plants, while offering compact and scalable deployment of new plants. Watech recently signed a cooperation agreement with US global water technology provider Xylem.
Kaiima, which recently raised $65 million in investment funds, has developed a proprietary Enhanced Ploidy technology (EP™), which multiplies the plant’s genome without compromising its integrity. This non-GMO technology is implemented within the genome of crops that are vital to global food security as well as specific energy crops, to significantly boost productivity and improve land and water-use efficiencies.
Atlantium has developed patent-pending technology for the disinfection of water in real-time at high flow rates. Checklight develops, manufactures and delivers innovative early warning solutions for rapid detection of contamination in drinking water, through the use of sensitized luminescent bacteria.
CheckLight technology has been verified by the US Environmental protection agency (EPA), and its products are marketed to water utilities, environmental monitoring agencies, through a global distribution network in Asia, Europe and America. The system is currently in beta testing by Mekorot’s water quality team. Rotec Ltd. is a developer of innovative technologies to improve RO/NF membrane desalination efficiency. The increased efficiency is achieved by periodic flow reversal in the feed side of the membrane module train, which is accomplished by switching the connection points of the feed and concentrate lines.
Other start-ups include Blue I Water Technologies, which has developed comprehensive analytical systems for use by municipalities and industry for total water quality management. EMZA Visual Sense has developed a sophisticated surveillance system suitable for use to secure water installations. SmartTap has developed an app to control the water flow and temperature of showers, while Water-Gen has developed a battery operated water from air water purification system. GreenIQ has developed a smart garden irrigation system and Mapal Green Energy has developed a floating fine-bubbles aeration system for waste water treatment plants, which slashes their energy consumption and Desalitech develops closed circuit desalination systems. Emefcy develops modular technologies for wastewater treatment and SmarTap digitizes the shower, and makes it possible to save water and electricity.
Applied CleanTech has developed an energy-saving sludge recycling system. The system separates the solid waste in sewage treatment plants, reducing the amount of sludge, which is then automatically repackaged into dry, odorless raw materials for the plastics industry. The system is running a pilot at the Safed Sewage Treatment Plant.
In addition to Mekorot, the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) of the Israeli government’s Ministry Economy also offers grants and incentives including beta-site grants to promising start-up companies. Through its MAGNET program for generic pre-competitive technologies and R&D, the OCS allocated $15 million to a consortium seeking technological solutions for the fouling of water systems by micro-organisms and biological waste. The consortium is led by Yissum, the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and includes Ben Gurion university of the Negev, Bar-Ilan University, the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Mekorot, the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Institute, Amiad, Arkal, Atlantium and Bio-Pure Technology.