from the December 2007 issue

The Focus is on Water!

For most of its existence Israeli agriculture has been known primarily for its drip water irrigation.. Drip irrigation, is also known as trickle irrigation or microirrigation an irrigation method that minimizes the use of water and fertilizer, by allowing water to seep slowly to the roots of plants, either onto the soil surface or directly onto the root zone, through a network of valves, pipes, tubing, and emitters.

The concept of drip irrigation has been well known for decades. After WWII plastics technology took off rapidly and drip irrigation became economically practical. The first such work was with micro-tubes and took place in England and France in greenhouses. About 1960, a Mr.Symcha Blass an employee of a British Water Agency, emigrated to Israel. There is a "fable" (which could be true, because it came from his own mouth) about Symcha Blass sitting next to a tree which was near a leaking faucet and Eureka! But there is also no doubt that he knew about the British greenhouse application of micro-tubes. With the desperate water shortage in Israel, he decided that this technology would be useful for growing crops in the field as well as in greenhouses. The microtube was first wrapped around the feeding tube to keep it out of the way to prevent damage. This was followed by a molded coupling, with the spiral molded in. In turn this developed into the ubiquitous two piece in-line dripper described in Blass' patent. Blass did his work at Kibbutz Hatzerim and formed the basis of the Netafim, irrigation enterprise, whose annual exports lately exceed $350m.

Modern drip irrigation has arguably become the most important innovation in agriculture since the invention of the impact sprinkler in the 1930s, which had replaced wasteful flood irrigation. Drip irrigation may also use devices called micro-spray heads, which spray water in a small area, instead of dripping emitters. These are generally used on tree and vine crops with wider root zones. Subsurface drip irrigation or SDI uses a permanently or temporarily buried dripperline or drip tape located at or below the plant roots. It is becoming more extensively used for row crop irrigation especially in areas where water supplies are limited or recycled water is used for irrigation.Simple in concept and execution water is small amounts directed by small water pipes that aim directly at the root of a plant.Fertigation came next. It allowed fertilizers to be added to the water. These simple systems were exported throughout the world and earned hundreds of millions of dollars in exports for Israel. Israeli Jaffa oranges and grapefruits were also well accepted internationally but total annual sales were in the order of several hundreds of millions of dollar.Over the years citrus growing declined and most orchards were shut down.

While the water problem grew, at the same time desalination expertise was being developed. One executive told me that the Zarchin process desalination plant was operating in more than 50 countries but only one in Israel

The Israel Sea Water Conversion Commission has been experimenting with desalting technology for years. Two desalination plants have been built on the Red Sea at Elath. One is an oil-fired, dual-purpose distillation plant, producing 1,125,000 gallons of fresh water a day and 6,000 kilowatts of electricity. The same steam that turns the turbine generators supplies the heat that evaporates fresh water from the brine. The second and smaller plant -- 265,000-gallons-a-day -- separates salt from water by a vacuum freezing process developed by the 75-year-old Israeli engineer, Alexander Zarchin. The Zarchin process is based on the principle that as seawater is frozen, the growth of ice crystals expels the salt and other impurities. A salt water film that coats the otherwise pure ice crystals is washed off, and the ice is melted. Zarchin believes his process is the most efficient because the energy needed to freeze water is one-seventh that required to boil an equivalent amount for distillation. However things are changing. Irael Desalination Engineering (IDE) plans to raise up tos $200 million at a company value of $500 million, before money, on the London Stock Exchange.

IDE was founded in 1965. The company develops both thermal and seawater reverse osmosis desalination - the two prevailing technologies for seawater desalination, and is active in 40 countries.

In this issue we feature the recently held Water 2007 Conference as well as other developments. We believe `that Israel's water industry will expand rapidly.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report December 2007

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