Israel’s Water Expertise - an Industrial Moneymaker?

Billions to be made by helping companies meet green regulations.

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Israel excels in water purification and its drip irrigation technology enjoys a worldwide reputation.

At present Israel has about 300 companies that deal with water. Most of these specialize in developing products for agricultural and urban water systems. Few Israeli companies in this field, however, are geared towards the industrial market. This field requires production process expertise in targeted industries and strong marketing infrastructure.

In light of the forecast growth around the world for water-intensive industries, Israel could be missing out on billions of dollars in revenues a year from the development of industrial technologies such as for water purification or quality control.

The Economy Ministry, together with the Technion’s Samuel Neaman Institute and the Israel Export Institute, performed a study to determine where resources should be invested to boost exports. The study’s initial findings show a potential of $9.1 billion a year in water technologies for four industries where Israel has hardly any foothold: food, mining, oil and gas, and pharmaceuticals.

According to the study, this potential is based on regulatory requirements that force industry to adopt environmental protection standards in their use of water. Potential investment in water treatment for the food industry, the study shows, could yield $3.7 billion annually based on 2012 with 7% yearly growth over the following five years. Meanwhile, it could yield $2.7 billion from the mining industry with potential annual growth of 10% in the next five years; $2 billion from the oil and gas industry with 20% annual growth potential in the next five years; and $700 million from the drug industry with about 10% annual growth in the next five years.

‘Not geared to industry’

“There are Israeli companies that developed technology for preliminary treatment of water in the area of desalinization and this technology can also be applied to industry, but the companies aren’t geared toward that today,” says Dr. Gilead Fortuna of the Samuel Neaman Institute who, along with Shiri Freund-Koren, ran the study. “Companies engaged in cleaning the water flowing from households in urban areas could use the technology for industries discharging polluted water.”

“Israel’s water industry grew as an offshoot of agriculture and is starting to head towards industry where opportunities are larger,” says Oded Distel who heads the water project at the Economy Ministry. “We are just getting started entering the field of water for industry and the global industry is also in the process. While just a few years ago the level of action and awareness by industry concerning investment in water treatment was low, now it is increasingly on the upswing. Coca Cola recently changed its approach to water treatment, and the oil and gas industry also understands that the world is changing and that wastewater needs to be treated. The potential of global industry is nearly endless.”

Several Israeli companies in the field have zeroed in on the potential and are involved in industry, according to Freund-Koren. Atlantium Technologies, for example, has installations at Coca Cola, Strauss, and Tnuva that check the UV quality of water entering the plants. Blue I Water Technologies has installed equipment at Coca Cola and other companies to monitor and analyze various parameters of the water. Aqwise Wise Water Technologies treats wastewater at Teva Pharmaceutical Industries and food processing plants around the world.

The limited involvement industrial water by Israeli companies is due to the complexity of this field and the differences between plants, even between plants belonging to the same company as well. “Even a company whose products are installed in a certain pharmaceutical plant will need to undergo a long process to become involved at another plant of the same company because the water entering the process could be different,” according to Distel. “The production line could be different and wastewater regulation could be different.

“For example, a place with abundant water doesn’t need recycling like somewhere suffering from a shortage,” explains Distel. “But we see more companies looking towards the industrial market, and the industrial market is increasingly searching for intelligent solutions. The array of foreign attaches at the Economy Ministry is pushing hard towards the industrial sector. The future of Israel’s water industry lies in its ability to provide advanced technological solutions for meeting strict environmental regulations around the world.”

The study headed by Fortuna and Freund-Koren was meant to help the water industry to capitalize on more opportunities abroad in the area of industries based on increasing water usage. The work concentrates on sectors where company growth makes it necessary to find innovative solutions for overcoming existing technological gaps or increasing process efficiency in the face of global water shortages and tightening regulations. The study in its entirety will be presented at the Watec 2013 international exhibition in October.

There could be billions to be made in developing green techologies for water-intensive industries.Credit: Nir Kafri

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