June 28, 2018

Israeli water start-up selected as international ‘technology pioneer’

The World Economic Forum has chosen Watergen as one of its technology pioneers out of hundreds of candidates.

The Israeli start-up’s devices and technology are a new source of clean drinking water, using patented Genius technology. The device is simple to use, requiring only an energy source, which cracks many water challenges the world faces, including drought, defective and damaged water supply systems and dangerous lead pipes that pollute the drinking water.

In addition, Watergen’s transformative advances have dramatic implications for worldwide water security, promoting peace, stability, and environmental sustainability.

Watergen’s rapid technology uses the “air we breathe” and converts it into “the most premium quality drinking water,” the start-up says on its website.

With clean drinking water being the sixth goal on the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development list, executive chairman Maxim Pasik said last week that the company had emphasized to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres when he visited Israel recently that “Watergen technology is the game changer for the global drinking water crisis. We do not have to wait until 2030 to achieve this goal.”

“Our patented water-from-air technology will save millions of lives and improve the quality of life of billions, prevent water access-based conflict, and eliminate unnecessary pollution from plastic waste,” Pasik said. “With this award, we will accelerate our expansion and, together with additional like-minded international partners, change the world by ensuring every human being has its most fundamental lifeline of clean and safe drinking water.”

Pasik will participate in the WEF’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions. This meeting, also dubbed “Summer Davos,” will be held in Tianjin, China, from September 18 to 20.

Many “pioneers” will also attend the annual meeting in Davos, in January 2019, and continue to contribute to forum initiatives in the course of the next two years.

“We welcome Watergen in this diverse group of technology pioneers,” said Fulvia Montresor, head of Technology Pioneer at the WEF. “Watergen and its fellow pioneers are front and center in shaping the ongoing Fourth Industrial Revolution, and we believe they will be transforming society and industry in a positive way in the years to come.”

Seven other Israeli start-ups also made the WEF “technology pioneers” list, including Utilis, a firm that uses satellite technology to detect water leaks; Innoviz Technologies, which makes light detection and ranging sensors for self-driving cars; and Aqua Security, a cybersecurity firm that works on increasing the security of software containers and prevent suspicious activity in real time.

This year’s cohort of technology pioneers chosen by the WEF has been dubbed the most diverse ever – both geographically and in terms of gender, with 25% female-led, and a majority, 52%, coming from regions outside the United States and Silicon Valley.

This includes start-ups from Germany, Australia, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, China, New Zealand, Morocco, Brazil, Kenya, Sweden, Canada, France and the UK. Each continent will be represented, barring Antarctica.



Electricity from germs could be the next big thing, say Israeli researchers

You can generate electricity from oil, you can produce it from natural gas, you can make it from nuclear energy, and you can channel it from the sun, via solar energy conversion systems. You can even generate electricity from photosynthetic bacteria, also known as cyanobacteria, based on a new innovation developed at the Technion. As published in a study in the journal, Nature Communications, the Technion researchers have developed an energy-producing system that exploits both the photosynthesis and respiratory processes that cyanobacteria undergo, with the harvested energy leveraged to generate electricity based on hydrogen.

The study was conducted by three Technion faculty members: Professor Noam Adir from the Schulich Faculty of Chemistry, Professor Gadi Schuster from the Faculty of Biology, and Professor Avner Rothschild, from the Faculty of Materials Science and Engineering. The work involved collaboration between Dr. Gadiel Saper and Dr. Dan Kallmann, as well as colleagues from Bochum, Germany and the Weizmann Institute of Science. It was supported by various bodies, including the Nancy and Stephen Grand Technion Energy Program (GTEP), the Russell Berrie Nanotechnology Institute (RBNI), the Technion Hydrogen Technologies Research Lab (HTRL), the Adelis Foundation, the Planning and Budgeting Committee’s I-CORE program, the Israel Science Foundation, the USA-Israel Binational Science Fund (BSF) and the German research fund (DFG-DIP).

Scientists have long considered cyanobacteria a possible energy source. Cyanobacteria belong to a family of bacteria common to lakes, seas, and many other habitats. The bacteria use photosynthetic mechanisms that enable them to generate energy from sunlight. They also generate energy in the dark, via respiratory mechanisms based on digestion and degradation of sugar.

Cyanobacteria are a vital part of the environment, as they form a source of atmospheric oxygen and an essential source of organic material (they are largely made of sugar) — the first link in the food chain. To generate the energy they need to exist, the cyanobacteria use phycobilisomes (PBS), a kind of “solar antenna,” to absorb a broad range of sunlight intensities and wavelengths, efficiently and effectively exploiting the inexhaustible power of the sun. That energy is channeled to chemical reaction centers, where water is broken down, while releasing a flow of hydrogen ions, which are then applied to generate chemical energy, driving food production.

The team simply diverted the produced hydrogen to generate electricity — demonstrating that cyanobacteria can indeed be used as a source of clean energy. No mechanical process is required to generate the power, and no fossil fuels need to be burned in order to produce the electricity. One of the breakthroughs of this study was the use of live bacteria, said the researchers — and as an extra bonus, no bacteria are expected to be harmed in the process of generating power.

With this innovation, the day of the fossil fuel may soon be gone. The vagaries of solar power generation (namely, that it only works when the sun is out) will no longer limit the generation of clean energy, nor will the dangerous power of the atom be needed as a source of energy. Instead, the power plant of the future could very well be a massive colony of cyanobacteria, just doing their thing — producing hydrogen energy from their natural process of living, with humans harvesting that energy to create electricity, clean-burning hydrogen fuel, and more. “In the recent past, utilization of biological systems for environmentally clean energy production has been offered as an attractive alternative to the use of fossil fuels,” say the authors of the study. “Our results presented here show that cyanobacteria offer a unique opportunity to fully utilize the potential of biological energy conversion systems.”



Hailing best ever ties, Prince William praises innovative Israel, urges peace

Britain’s Prince William on Tuesday evening hailed Israel as a vibrant country that “thrive[s] on innovation, diversity, talent, and excellence,” and said ties were at an all-time high.

He promised Britain’s support in the quest for peace between Israel and its neighbors.  And at the only public speech during his official visit to Israel this week — the first ever by a member of the royal family — William also pledged to uphold the memory of the Holocaust.

“Israel’s remarkable story is partly one of remembering this terrible past but, also, looking forward to a much more hopeful future. There is – and I’ve seen it already – an essential vibrancy to this country,” the prince said, speaking at a reception for about 350 Israelis at the residence of UK Ambassador to Israel David Quarrey in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan.

“From the early stories of the kibbutzim; to the revival of Hebrew as a living, modern language; to the hi-tech economies that we see around us here in Tel Aviv — the modern story of Israel is one of inventing, creating, innovating, and striding confidently into its future.”

Still, he noted, “This region has a complicated and tragic history – in the past century the people of the Middle East have suffered great sadness and loss. Never has hope and reconciliation been more needed,” he said. “I know I share a desire with all of you, and with your neighbors, for a just and lasting peace. The United Kingdom stands with you, as we work together for a peaceful and prosperous future.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Prince William — the second-in-line for the throne — participated in a soccer match of Jewish and Arab youth and a beach volleyball game at the Tel Aviv beach.

“I got a flavor today of the unique character of Tel Aviv, its flair and diversity – and its beach. A beautiful city,” he said at the reception, which was attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, several cabinet ministers, senior opposition MKs, and other dignitaries and celebrities.

On Wednesday morning, the prince is set to meet more young Israelis involved in environment, mental health, culture, and charity.

“These young people are painting a bright future for Israel, bringing their own energy and creativity to the Start-Up Nation,” he said. “These young people are also a reminder of how much we have in common – two open societies which thrive on innovation, diversity, talent, and excellence.”

Ties between the UK and Israel “have never been stronger,” the future king went on, citing record levels of trade and investment, cooperation in science and technology, and robust bilateral security ties.

Earlier on Tuesday, Prince William visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, where he met with two Israeli Holocaust survivors who had fled from Europe to Britain on the Kindertransport 80 years ago.

“As I wrote in my message at Yad Vashem, we must never forget what was perpetrated against the Jewish people in the Holocaust,” he said. “I am well aware that the responsibility falls now to my generation to keep the memory alive of that great crime as the Holocaust generation passes on. And I commit myself to doing this.”

On Thursday, he is scheduled to visit the grave of his great-grandmother, Princess Alice, who is considered by Yad Vashem a “Righteous Among the Nations” for saving Jews during the Holocaust.

“Her story is a matter of great pride for my whole family — and the gift I received today from you, Prime Minister, of a copy of the medal presented in her honor by Israel is something my family will treasure – thank you,” Prince William said.

Earlier on Tuesday, Netanyahu and his wife Sara hosted the prince at their official residence on Balfour Street, where they met with descendants of Haimaki and Rachel Cohen, who were saved during the Holocaust by Princess Alice.

“Israel’s remarkable story is partly one of remembering this terrible past but, also, looking forward to a much more hopeful future. There is — and I’ve seen it already — an essential vibrancy to this country,” the duke said.

Before the royal visitor’s speech, the Netanyahus and the prince viewed an exhibit of the technological developments of four Israeli companies. The prime minister did not deliver a speech at the reception, as often members of the royal family are the only speakers at events given in their honor by the British government.

The prince began his address in Hebrew — Erev Tov, LeKulam (Good evening everybody) — and smiled broadly and endearingly when applauded. He ended it, to more applause, with Toda raba (thank you very much).

He then engaged in series of private conversations with about a dozen Israelis from all walks of life, including singers Shiri Maimon and Ivri Lider, opposition politicians Tzipi Livni and Isaac Herzog, Ben-Gurion University President Rivka Carmi, model Bar Refaeli, Channel 10 news anchorwoman Tamar Ish Shalom, and Saul Singer, the co-author of a successful book about how Israel became known as the “Start-up Nation.”



Poland amends controversial Holocaust law, nixing penalties

Polish lawmakers passed changes to a controversial Holocaust speech law on Wednesday, removing criminal provisions for attributing Nazi crimes to Poland.

The amendments passed 388 to 25, with five abstentions, following an emotional session in the Sejm, the lower house of parliament.

The original legislation, introduced by Poland’s conservative ruling party, had sparked a bitter dispute with Israel, which said it inhibits free speech about the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposed the legislation, warning it harmed Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.

One key paragraph of the law stated, “Whoever claims, publicly and contrary to the facts, that the Polish Nation or the Republic of Poland is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich… or for other felonies that constitute crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or war crimes, or whoever otherwise grossly diminishes the responsibility of the true perpetrators of said crimes – shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to three years.”

The new draft bill was presented to parliament by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and lawmakers held an emotional debate, with members of the opposition lashing out at the Law and Justice party for ever passing the law in the first place.

Stefan Niesiolowski of Civic Platform called the original law “idiocy,” while Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz, of the Modern party, asked why it had taken the ruling party half a year to reverse course on a move that had harmed Poland’s most important international relationships.

“Why so late? Why did so much have to be broken?” she said to lawmakers.

The new version removes the penal provisions and is likely to allow Poland to repair its international standing and relationship with its allies. However, Law and Justice also risks losing some support from its nationalist voters.

One nationalist lawmaker, Robert Winnicki, described it as caving in to Jewish interests. He even tried to block the podium, seeking to prevent a vote that he called a “scandal,” but the vote went ahead anyway.

Morawiecki tried to put a positive spin on the whole affair, arguing that while abandoning the original law, it still had been a success because it had made Poland’s wartime history a topic of international debate.

“Our basic goal was to fight for the truth, for Poland’s good name, to present what reality looked like, the realities of World War II and we achieve this goal,” Morawiecki said.

World Jewish Congress leader Ronald S. Lauder welcomed the move, saying the criminalization was “an egregious mistake” and calling for further examination of the “inherently flawed” law.

“Poles are understandably upset when Nazi German annihilation and concentration camps are referred to as ‘Polish’ simply due to their location on German-occupied Polish soil, but it was an egregious mistake to criminalize those who do so, within the framework of a law that in its essence threatens Poland’s good name and international standing,” Lauder said in a statement.

In response to the removal of penalties, Jewish community leader Klaudia Klimek said that the result was positive; however, “as usual, this government destroyed good relations with Israel, Ukraine, and the US and only after reasonable external pressure admitted its mistake and changed.”

The dispute with Israel sparked a wave of anti-Semitic rhetoric in Poland, even by members of the government and commentators in public media, as well as hate speech directed against Poles abroad.

In April, a Polish nationalist group asked prosecutors to investigate whether Israeli President Reuven Rivlin broke the law during a visit to Poland.

The vice president of the National Movement, Krzysztof Bosak, said the request was filed after Rivlin told his Polish counterpart during commemorations at Auschwitz that Poland enabled the implementation of Germany’s genocide.

Rivlin told Polish President Andrjez Duda that, while some Poles helped rescue Jews during the Holocaust, others took part in their extermination, and that Poland as a country played a role.

“There is no doubt that there were many Poles who fought the Nazi regime, but we cannot deny that Poland and Poles had a hand in the extermination,” Rivlin said in Krakow.

“The country of Poland allowed the implementation of the horrific genocidal ideology of Hitler, and witnessed the wave of anti-Semitism sparked by the law you passed now,” the president added, challenging the legislation.

In February, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that, alongside Poles, Jews were also responsible for perpetrating the Holocaust.

“Of course, it’s not going to be punishable, [it’s] not going to be seen as criminal to say that there were Polish perpetrators, as there were Jewish perpetrators, as there were Russian perpetrators, as there were Ukrainian; not only German perpetrators,” he told Yedioth Ahronoth.

In March, the Polish attorney general’s office described the law as partly unconstitutional, saying the it was “dysfunctional,” could have “opposite results than those intended,” and could “undermine the Polish state’s authority.”



At least 13 rockets launched from Gaza after army strikes Hamas cell’s car

Rocket sirens blared throughout the predawn hours of Wednesday morning in the Israeli communities surrounding the Gaza Strip as Palestinians launched over a dozen rockets at southern Israel after the military struck a Hamas vehicle in the center of the coastal enclave.

The alarms rang out in towns and small communities throughout the Eshkol, Sha’ar Hanegev, Sdot Negev and Hof Ashkelon regions, several times from approximately 1:45 a.m. to 4 a.m., sending thousands of Israeli running into bomb shelters.

At least three rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system. There were no reports of casualties or damage in Israel. In addition, no rocket impacts were reported inside Israeli communities.

In the hours following the flareup, the army and the relevant regional councils held a “situational assessment” meeting and decided to allow schools to open as usual on Wednesday. No special instructions were given to residents of the area, according to local government officials.

Throughout the day on Tuesday, Palestinians launched incendiary balloons into southern Israel, sparking several fires in the area.

In response, shortly after 1 a.m. on Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces launched a number of strikes in the Gaza Strip. One targeted a car that the army said belonged to a senior Hamas operative involved in the airborne arson attacks. The army said it also used an additional aircraft and a tank to strike two Hamas outposts in the north of the Strip.

Palestinians said the vehicle that was hit belonged to one of the Hamas terror group’s field commanders and was parked in Gaza’s Nuseirat refugee camp. There were no casualties reported, indicating the car was empty at the time.

The Israel Defense Forces issued a warning to Hamas after the rocket attacks, saying the group “would pay the price for the terror and the instability.”

In recent weeks, the military has adopted a policy of targeting Hamas positions in response to repeated incendiary kite and balloon attacks from Gaza in an effort to force the group, which rules the coastal enclave, to stop launching the arson devices and to force others in the Strip to abandon the tactic as well.

However, Hamas is attempting to maintain that the near-constant airborne arson attacks, which have burned thousands of acres of Israeli land, do not warrant retaliatory strikes by Israel and therefore accuses Jerusalem of violating the tacit ceasefire between the two sides.

“Bombings will be answered with bombings,” Hamas said after its rocket attacks on Wednesday.

It was the third such exchange between Israel and Hamas in recent weeks. On June 18 and 20, Hamas and its ally the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched similar rocket and mortar attacks at southern Israel after the IDF conducted airstrikes against Hamas positions in response to repeated arson attacks.

On Tuesday, Palestinians said Israeli drones destroyed two cars and an observation post in Gaza that were being used by a group of Palestinians to launch incendiary balloons into southern Israel. The military confirmed that its aircraft conducted three strikes in response to repeated arson attacks from the coastal enclave.

No Palestinian injuries were reported.

The IDF conducted similar airstrikes on Sunday, firing at groups of Gazans launching incendiary kites and balloons into southern Israel. In one case, three people were injured as an IDF drone fired a missile at a cart being used by the group, according to local Palestinian media.

On Monday, a total of 11 fires were caused in southern Israel by airborne arson devices, according to local government officials.

The Israeli military has carried out multiple warning strikes in recent weeks at groups of Gazans preparing to launch incendiary devices toward Israel. The army has said repeatedly that it will act to prevent the launch of the airborne incendiary devices and explosives.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched countless kites, balloons and inflated latex condoms bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, into Israeli territory, sparking near-daily fires that have burned thousands of acres of farmland, parks and forests.

Israeli leaders have warned that the military is prepared to take more intense offensive action against the phenomenon.

Israeli leaders have been split on how to respond to those responsible for the airborne arson attacks, with some calling for the IDF to shoot the kite flyers and balloon launchers on sight, while others argue that it would be a step too far.



US, Israeli, energy ministers establish joint technology center

The United States and Israel have established a partnership to study energy issues, including cybersecurity.

US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) signed an agreement Monday to launch the US-Israel Center of Excellence in Energy, Engineering and Water Technology.

In March, the Congress appropriated $4 million for the Department of Energy to establish the center for joint research and development with Israel. The Israeli government will match the sum, and private sector partners will provide the rest for the initial $16 million needed for the project.

“The partnership between our two countries has long advanced the cause of freedom, dignity, and peace and, as we are highlighting today, the joint quest for science and innovation,” Perry said at the signing.

The center is set to accelerate development and more rapid deployment of critical and innovative technologies for fossil energy, energy cybersecurity in critical infrastructure, the energy-water nexus, energy storage, and other areas of energy that are needed to diversify energy supply and promote higher efficiency, the US Department of Energy said in a statement.