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02 Nov 2020

EU draws on Israeli innovation to advance Green Deal

The EU is funding research for several projects that tap Israel’s cleantech and greentech expertise

The European Green Deal calls for greenhouse gas emissions to be halved by 2030 and complete carbon neutrality by 2050. To help meet these challenging goals, the EU’s Horizon 2020 innovation incentive programme will devote at least 35 per cent of its budget to investments in climate solutions – including through multinational partnerships.

Aiming to be a leading developer of green solutions and cleantech, Israel recycles 92 per cent of its domestic wastewater, four times the rate of the next highest country, and has pioneered smart agricultural solutions, such as drip irrigation. The country’s track record of developing innovative technologies for better resource management has catapulted it to leading positions in international rankings, such as the Global Cleantech Innovation Index, where it ranks sixth. Israel is home to over 500 cleantech companies, while leading Israeli research universities have also incubated cutting-edge green solutions.

How is Israeli innovation helping advance Europe’s Green Deal goals? From promoting biodiversity to eliminating pollution and enabling more sustainable transportation options, a number of Israeli projects are receiving Horizon funding to meet the climate challenge. Here are just a few:

Cultivating biodiversity

For the planet to stem the tide of climate change, supporting biodiversity will be essential. Biodiversity is intimately linked to the climate crisis: As United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres notes, diverse ecosystems can “provide 37 per cent of the mitigation needed to limit global temperature rise.” Simply put, a warming planet undermines biodiversity, while biodiversity losses will exacerbate climate change, creating a vicious circle.

Backed by €6.9 million in EU funding, the G2P-SOL project was conceived to protect solanaceous plant species – including potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants – which together account for 66% of the value of Europe’s horticultural production. The project’s leaders point out the potato alone is a staple food for some 800 million people across the globe.

The G2P-SOL project aims to allow farmers and breeders to sustainably cultivate crops using seeds that are most favourable to local environmental conditions, thereby helping to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change on solanaceous species. Participating researchers from Hebrew University, the Agricultural Research Organization of Israel – the Volcani Center, and Phenom Networks Ltd. have established a public database cataloguing plants’ genetic data from different gene banks, with an eye toward helping farmers identify the right seeds for their terrain. This data-driven approach is designed to diversify global food production, promote sustainability, and secure the global food supply amidst a changing climate.

New forms of clean energy

Another piece of the climate puzzle – cleaner, greener energy – has long been a focus of research and investment. But beyond the most commonly utilised clean fuels – solar, wind, and geothermal, for instance – lie a number of other promising alternatives.

Take the eForFuel project, which received €4.1 million in EU funding. The initiative has brought together a number of prestigious research institutions, including Germany’s Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Biology and Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science, in a bid to transform carbon dioxide – one of the primary greenhouse gases - into renewable energy.

How does it work? Through an electrochemical process, the researchers reduce CO2 to formic acid – a simple acid which was first isolated from ants – and then feed it to microorganisms to produce hydrocarbon fuels.

A wide range of benefits could ensue – starting with efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable production of renewable chemicals and fuels. Via chemical engineering, hydrocarbons, such as propane and isobutene, produced by eForFuel’s electrochemical process, could themselves be transformed into new products, including the fuel substitute isooctane.

Accelerating the electric future

Any solution to the planet’s environmental crisis will have to address the issue of transportation. Transport accounts for nearly 25 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Europe, with road transport 71.7 per cent of all transport emissions in 2018, according to the European Environment Agency.

To drive down pollution from road transport, the European Green Deal makes the shift to zero-emissions options, such as electric vehicles (EVs), a primary focus. Enter SYS2WHEEL, a consortium with the mission of boosting EVs’ market penetration by overcoming some of the biggest speedbumps to affordable, scalable EV production. The consortium – which features 12 European partners and the Israeli EV company REE – is focused on developing high-efficiency, high-performance e-powertrain components and systems.

REE is leveraging its suspension platform to develop what company project leader Ran Dekel calls a “lighter, smaller, and more efficient vehicle, thereby directly contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, enhancing vehicle safety, and enabling easier, cheaper and less polluting repair and recycling processes.”

The consortium received €4.9 million in Horizon funding – a vote of confidence in its globally-minded, potentially transformative approach.

A novel approach to reducing food waste

Achieving the EU’s zero-pollution mission will require rethinking more than just the types of energy that power our homes, businesses, and modes of transportation. Simply reducing food waste can have an major impact on the fight against climate change.

As the World Wildlife Fund notes, the 1.3 billion tonnes of annual food waste represents wasted energy in growing, harvesting, moving, and packaging that food, while rotting food in landfills emits methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

NanoPack has developed a novel packaging solution for keeping food fresher longer and mitigating the food industry’s climate footprint. The project – which began in 2017 and is coordinated by the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology with participation from Israel-based Agora Partners – utilises nanotechnology to manufacture antimicrobial packaging that prevents food from spoiling or getting mouldy and minimises the need for preservatives. Microsopic in size, the EU-approved bioagents that NanoPack inserts into the packaging does not enter the food itself. The project is backed by €7.7 million in EU funding.

A defining challenge

The urgent climate issue has become even more pressing amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn. Recovering from the present crisis will depend in part on investments in smart innovations that create jobs and power sustainable development.

By working with Israeli innovators and researchers to address climate change, Europe stands to gain from an innovation ecosystem pursuing potentially gamechanging solutions to major issues. Through its Renewable Energy Technology Center, the Israel Innovation Authority provides support for ventures and R&D projects – helping nurture new start-ups to work alongside Israel’s established companies and research institutions.

With the ingenuity fostered by the European Green Deal and the Horizon 2020 programme, Europe is looking to take a global leadership role. But Europe will not be the only one that reaps the rewards – the whole planet will ultimately gain.

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