Author: Abigail Klein Leichman
Israel brings innovation to the budding field of blue tech
Originally published in ISRAEL21c.org.
Israel is investing in blue tech to promote aquaculture on land and sea as a sustainable local source of fish and edible plants.
“You have to be assured that if something happens – viruses, security issues, shipping delays – you can produce your own food.”
“There is a big awareness worldwide that climate change will dramatically affect food security and will change agriculture as we know it,” says Michal Levi, chief scientist and senior deputy director general of Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.
“We are all looking for sustainable ways to produce food and to find new protein sources, and in Israel there is a lot of innovation and research,” she tells ISRAEL21c.
Already a world leader in alternative protein startups, Israel is now seeking to be a significant player in the new “blue tech” space.
Blue tech includes aquaculture — the science of harvesting protein sources sustainably from water rather than land.
Water, Levi points out, is the largest ecosystem supporting life on our planet.
But aquaculture can be done even in the desert with the right technologies.
That was one of the themes explored at “Agrisrael-Sea the Future,” the first International Conference on Food from the Sea and the Desert, October 18-20 in Eilat, Israel’s southernmost city that sits in the Negev Desert on the shores of the Red Sea.
Organized by the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the conference drew entrepreneurs, researchers and government officials from Australia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Chile, Cyprus, Ecuador, Jordan, Iceland, Malta, Morocco, Netherlands, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, United Arab Emirates and United States, among others.
Eilat, future center for aquaculture
The Israeli government will invest NIS 170 million ($7.6 million) over the next five years into education and infrastructure to make Eilat — and the greater region, called Eilot — a national and international center for producing food from the sea and the desert.
“We will bring in researchers and students and we’ll promote areas where blue-tech startups can set up, do pilots and test their technologies,” says Levi.
The Agriculture Ministry is collaborating with neighbors, including Egypt, in sustainable ventures to produce fish, algae and other nutritious edibles.
This is an opportunity for Israeli aquaculture research to spill into the startup world, says Levi.
“Ocean fishing today is basically hunting, the only place commercial hunting is still happening,” she says, “and we believe it should be done in a way that does not harm the ocean and endanger fish. The main issue is to learn how to grow fish in captivity because by their nature they do not reproduce in captivity.”
A closed loop
Colors Farm on Moshav Hazeva is one established company accomplishing that goal in a variety of innovative ways since 1999.
For the past seven years, Colors Farm has run a closed circular aquaponics system to raise ornamental fish alongside greens such as lettuce and basil, all year round, using recirculated water without fertilizer or pesticides.
“The fish produce all the nitrogen and nutrients that the plants need, and the plants bring back the water to the fish in very good quality,” CEO Ran Epstein tells ISRAEL21c.
The leafy greens – including more than 100,000 lettuce heads per month — are sold in Israel’s largest supermarket chain. The ornamental fish are sold worldwide.
“If everyone worked like us, agriculture in Israel would consume 90 percent less water,” Epstein says.
The 10-member consortium has researchers and entrepreneurs working together on next-gen genomic editing projects in sectors including biomedicine (vaccines and pharmaceuticals), biofuels and food.
Colors Farm uses CRISPR genomic editing, as well as other technologies developed domestically, to produce fast-growing, disease-resistant fish mainly for the Asian food market.
“Our plan is to share our R&D with partners around the world because it’s impossible to export enough volume from Israel,” says Epstein.
Algae: More than a sushi wrapper
The dry, hot weather of Eilot provides the perfect climate for growing protein-, vitamin- and mineral-rich algae and microalgae.
Several Israeli companies are raising these simple aquatic plants for use in food additives and supplements, natural pigments, dyes, biodegradable plastics and biofuels.
AlgaeNite raises a special strain of nitrogen-fixing microalgae, using hydroponics and solar energy, for applications including meat/fish analogs, organic fertilizer, cosmetics and bioplastic.
Brevel is the first globally to combine sugar-based fermentation of
microalgae with a high concentration of light at industrial scales, resulting in a neutral-tasting protein for plant-based products including non-dairy cheeses by Israel’s Vgarden.
SimpliiGood markets flash-frozen spirulina, a super-nutritious alga, in six countries.
Kibbutz Keturah-based Algatech, acquired by Solabia in 2019, makes AstaPure Arava astaxanthin, a powerful microalgae-derived antioxidant.
Roni Sussman, formerly the saltwater algae head biologist for Algatech, is the director of AquaculTech, a new blue-tech initiative of the Israeli ministries of agriculture and economy, the Israel Innovation Authority and the nonprofit Israeli Innovation Institute.
AquaculTech aims to advance Israeli aquaculture by matching aquaculture entrepreneurs with investors, researchers, private and governmental partners, as well as pilot sites where startups can test blue technologies.
“All aquaculture is not as ecological as we would want, so we are promoting new approaches such as RAS – recirculating aquaculture systems,” says Sussman.
Examples of companies using RAS include Colors Farm, above, and AquaMaof in Rosh HaAyin.
Growing food with seawater instead of drinking water, solar power instead of fossil fuel, and close to the market are also key to sustainability.