Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Israeli Innovation: Helping to Solve Global Water Problems

Experimental desert oasis
Israel is an undisputed leader in providing desalination plants, equipment, novel technology and know-how for removing salt from water. However, there is still much to be done to make desalination technologies accessible for the world’s neediest citizens, especially in inland locations in the Middle East and Africa.

A very successful new model for desalinating water in poor regions like Africa has been developed by Israeli researchers from the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research at the Ben-Gurion University and Central Arava R&D.

A full system unit uses solar energy, at a fraction of what’s used in other current models, to power the pumps of a desalination unit that can create clean water as well as wastewater for secondary crops (usually grown as a subsidiary food source for home consumption.

A desert oasis powered by the sun is now up and running at a quarter-acre test site in the Arava Valley of Israel, a basin that is very dry.

The new plant relies on special nanofiltration membranes that churn out high-value irrigation water and allow the individual farmer or plant manager to decide which minerals should stay in the water and which should be removed. Normally, non-specific desalination filters remove all minerals, which must then be replenished depending on the end need.

According to the researchers, the special membrane enables them to save energy in the pumping, while allowing the water to retain the right essential minerals to support irrigated crops.

Already producing water for crops -- and an abundance of excess brackish water that can be fed to salt-loving plants like beets or used in aquaculture for ornamental fish -- the pilot plant is ready to scale up. A 2.5-acre site has been selected to serve as a bigger pilot plant as well as a training center for the thousands of people from poor nations who travel to Israel to learn about successful agricultural methods.

Until now, desalination plants have been prohibitively expensive for less-developed nations. They take an enormous amount of electricity to run and need to be built near the grid -- usually far from where micro- farms (which make up a large proportion of the agriculture of developing nations) are located.

There have been some ambitious projects to run desalination plants using solar photovoltaic panels, mostly to test new clean technologies, but the cost of these panels is still too high for wide-spread use.

So far the experimental results have been extremely promising. The desalinated water enables farmers to use 25 percent less water and fertilizer than usual. In other tests, the treated water did not affect the growth rates and densities of the yield. The researchers report that sorghum and millet yields actually increased.

The researchers now seek an additional half-million-dollar investment to drive their new pilot plant. They aim to build custom-made plants based on the specific needs of populations facing food insecurity.

Source: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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