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Israeli innovations in the toilet… and everywhere else

Aug 1, 2012 | Andrea Nadel

Israeli innovations in the toilet… and everywhere else
(Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

Israel’s internal and external challenges often make headlines around the world. Israel’s contributions to improving living conditions for people the world over, however, are finally starting to get the world’s attention.

In an effort to make our world a better place one flush at a time, the Israeli technology company Paulee CleanTech was recently awarded a US $110,000 grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Let’s Reinvent the Toilet Challenge to develop a toilet that requires no water and instantly transforms waste into usable compost. Paulee CleanTec’s toilet is unique because, according to company investor Oded Halperin in an interview with the online magazine Israel21c:

“For the solid waste, which also can include toilet paper, we are mixing it with our chemical formula for not more than 30 seconds and it will turn immediately into odorless, sterile fertilizer. […] The fertilizer will be automatically dropped into a removable canister where it can be collected from time to time and than be used for field and/or home crops. […]
Just to back up the energy source, we will also use a small solar panel on the roof. […] There’s no need for any sewerage or electricity infrastructures or connections. No need for water to flush. No special maintenance – the chemicals can be put in its dispenser once a month, and the cost of one use is only a few cents.”

The Gates Foundation has identified toilets as an area of interest because, according to its website, 2.6 billion people worldwide lack sanitary and affordable toilets, putting them at unnecessary risk of exposure to diseases caused by water contamination. Should the Paulee CleanTec toilet prove viable, a further US $1 million or $1.5 million could follow from the Gates Foundation to take the toilet global.

These toilet trailblazers are hardly the only Israeli innovators making the world a healthier place. Here are just a few recent examples which caught the eye.

The fight against cancer has taken a big leap forward with the invention in Israel of the IceSense3, a probe that destroys tumours (requiring only local anaesthetic) by surrounding them with ice, a procedure known as cryoablation. The probe has even caught the attention of renowned Japanese surgeon Dr. Eisuke Fukuma, who traveled to Caesarea to meet with IceSense3’s developers at IceCure. According to Dr. Fukuma:

“This procedure is an exciting step towards moving treatment of small, early-stage breast cancer tumors from open surgery to a minimally invasive cryoablation procedure. […] Cryoablation offers a much more comfortable and cosmetically appealing treatment option for small breast cancers.”

So far, initial tests of the probe’s effectiveness have yielded promising results. In an interview with Globes, IceCure CEO Hezi Himelfarb noted that

“The clinical trial destroyed small cancerous tumors by cryoablation, without the need for a surgical procedure. We believe that cryoablation, using the IceSense3, is an innovative approach best suited for treating small cancerous tumors in the breast.”

While the world struggles to wean itself off petrol and is forced to resort to drilling for oil in increasingly risky ways as worldwide supplies become harder to locate, the Israeli clean-tech company EcoBasalt has developed a method for cleaning up the aftermath of oil spills. Notes CEO Robert Barzelay in an interview with the website NoCamels:

“Current oil sorbent materials, mainly made of oil derivatives such as polypropylene, are inefficient and slow. Besides that, they have to be disposed of after the job, which is not only very costly but in fact only moves the pollution to landfills, or into the atmosphere when burnt at sea. Thus, they still leave toxic residues at sea and have carbon particles land somewhere else.”

Using fibres made from volcanic basalt to extract oil from the water, EcoBasalt claims that its method is environmentally friendly, reusable (the basalt can be used in asphalt for building roads once the oil it absorbs has been removed), and poses no health risks to humans. It has already received attention at several global conferences and appears to be making a splash in the world of oil spill cleanup.

Other recent “Greentech” developments in Israel include new techniques to use underground water pipes to generate electric power and new developments in storing power involving aluminum grains and compressed air.

Israel’s interest and excellence in environmental stewardship in particular has been gaining the world’s attention. Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Environmental Protection Minister, was named vice-chairman of the UN’s recent Rio +20 conference, despite the fact that Syria’s delegation tried to have Israel excluded from the conference altogether. Before that, Time magazine in 2008 recognised Shai Agassi, CEO of the Tel Aviv-based electric car company Better Place, as one of its “Heroes of the Environment” for his efforts to promote emissions-free automobiles. More recently, CNN highlighted Yosef Abramowitz, co-founder of the Arava Power Company, as one of its “Green Pioneers” in recognition of his efforts to bring solar power to Israel and beyond on a commercial scale.

Other recent unique science and tech stories coming out of Israel include the development of a scientific idea for what could someday be a Star Trek-esque  “tractor beam,” (which would be used to pick up and move objects); a new Israeli-designed Microsoft phone app which can turn your phone into an automated assistant, (sending texts when you are driving, finding your car in the car park, and reminding you to call your mother); and even new revelations about how the Octopus manages to make itself almost invisible by camouflaging itself in its surroundings.

Israel’s innovations in medicine, technology and environmental stewardship tell an unsung success story that have made life better for scores of people in visible, tangible ways. It’s a story that the world is just starting to take note of and emulate in kind.

For more news and information on Israeli hi-tech achievements, visit the webzine Israel21c and Michael Ordman’s blog “Very Good News from Israel.”

Andrea Nadel

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