It's been a busy week few weeks for us Israelis. After recovering from George W. Bush's visit which shut down Jerusalem's main arteries for a couple of days, the tiny nation welcomed Al Gore. He was at Tel Aviv University to collect a $1 million Dan David Prize for educating the world about global warming. As part of the deal, he kicked off Renewable Energy and Beyond, the first conference of its kind in Israel, hosted by Tel Aviv University.
Although the lecture topics of the conference were interesting enough, the most exciting stuff -- as is usually the case at conferences -- happened during the breaks. Two interesting things come to mind.
The first was meeting Isaac Berzin, the founder of America's GreenFuel Technologies. Thanks to our skillful ability to intercept the Belgian Embassy's rep, we managed to catch Berzin, a Time Magazine influential for 2008 (he appears at #57, two before Miley Cyrus!), to talk with him about the future of algae for biofuel, the premise on which GreenFuel was founded.
It's official. He's back in Israel and living in Jerusalem with his wife and three kids. Although staying on as an adviser for GreenFuel, he is now a fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzylia. But the exciting news is that he plans to build a massive-scale GreenFuel type project in Israel. His vision is ten times the size of GreenFuel. To do that he hopes to assemble the best renewable energy projects from Israeli academia and industry. One of those projects could be biofuel from algae, otherwise known as that slimy green stuff you wipe from the fish tank.
"The center of excellence is already here," Berzin, who has rock star acclaim in the green world, tells The Huffington Post/TreeHugger. And unlike top American centers like MIT, he says, Israel has experience on all levels to make this dream a reality. For decades Israelis have been dealing with water shortage, and have developed unusually creative solutions for growing crops in places where cacti fear to tread.
Surprisingly, while most Israeli innovators in cleantech seem to be looking to the west, Berzin's eyes are on the east. China to be exact. What's happening with China's emerging economy could spell disaster not only for Israel but the world. Says Berzin, "When it comes to global warming, the U.S. thinks they are the center of the world. The U.S. is irrelevant."
China is now the world' biggest contributor to greenhouse gases, and it looks like the problem is only going to worsen in an exponential way. They are also buying fuel from Iran, a scary alliance for most Israelis.
The good news is that the Chinese are opportunistic, and Berzin plans to give them a clean, green, cheap solution they can't resist. Will it be algae for fuel? Maybe. Berzin says he doesn't see one solution as the "silver bullet," but a package of alternatives. Israel needs to be ready to supply China within five years. Anyway if we wait much longer, "by ten years, we'll have reached the point of no return," he says, echoing what climate change scientists are saying about the fate of our world.
The second thing that happened while we were on an extended break was Greenpeace. An analyst we'd met earlier from Israel Cleantech Ventures comes running out of the hall: "Greenpeace is protesting right now. You've got to see it. Who's ever heard of Greenpeace petitioning at a renewable energy event?"
How did they sneak through security?
Greenpeace now being moved by security and standing behind us talking to the TV, had a point. They'd come to protest against Israel's National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer who was delivering a hopeful speech about Israel and solar energy, while at the same time, working on a deal to create a new coal-fired power plant in the south of Israel.
We were disappointed that Greenpeace kept their clothes on. Last year during a Shimon Peres talk on a nuclear Middle East, the Israeli Greenpeacers got naked. Well they kept their underwear on, but it was "naked" in a kosher sort of way. Peres addressed the protest with his usual charm by saying:
"The air conditioning here has to be turned down, I was concerned for their health."
So it's been an exciting time lately with lots for this TreeHugger to think about. And do take our advice: the real exciting "green" stuff happens outside the conference room. If you're in the neighbourhood, consider visiting next week's expo -- an extravaganza of Israeli cleantech inventions -- at Airport City.
Karin Kloosterman is the founder and editor of Green Prophet www.greenprophet.com, the leading environment news site in the Middle East. For tips and inquiries email