It’s a tremendously exciting and truly inspiring time for those of us involved in Israeli scientific expertise and innovation. The profusion of start-ups at the forefront of developing technologies have long marked us out as the new Silicon Valley. In bio-tech we are firmly established as a superpower in the successful development of new products with the potential to change all our lives. And over the past year the pioneering rollout of the Covid vaccine has only enhanced our international reputation.
But while there is hope in the battle against the pandemic, the planet now faces another, greater threat from the calamitous effects of climate change. Perhaps Israel has not traditionally been considered a leader in the development of green technologies in the same way as, for example, the Scandinavian nations. Yet the picture is rapidly changing.
This week, Aleph Farms’ lab-free meat and Hargol’s grasshopper sweets have made the news as Israeli ventures which will help to lower carbon emissions. But these are just two innovators in what is now a burgeoning sector of green innovation in Israel which is set to benefit countries around the world.
As the managing director of CityZone, a joint venture between Atidim Park Tel Aviv, the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality and the Tel Aviv University, I can share with you some of the extraordinary developments that we are nurturing to the benefit of everyday lives in cities, the local environment and that of the planet as whole.
We test technologies in the living-lab setting of the Atidim Park district, and we operate the city’s open innovation program, where start-ups work with local government and the private sector.
The challenges Tel Aviv faces are very similar to those in other major metropolitan areas around the world, even if ours are on a smaller scale than most cities. From mobility and transportation to infrastructure, security and accessibility, these issues will all shape our environmental future.
Our startups are committed to finding the urgently needed solutions for these near universal problems. One I’m particularly excited about is BioShade, which addresses the phenomenon of what are called urban heat islands.
Temperatures are higher in cities, and particularly towards their centres. It’s not hard to see why: think, for example, of the greater levels of human activity, all the heat put out by building projects, and of course traffic on the road.
One of the best ways to cool our streets is natural shading in the form of trees. However, only 16 per cent of Tel Aviv’s streets have shade coverage, and in many other cities around the world, the situation is even worse. This is a huge problem. Even if you start planting trees now, it will take at least eight years before it provides significant shading. Meanwhile, the streets remain unpleasant for walking and so residents take the car everywhere – only adding to congestion and air pollution.
BioShade’s solution? Growing vines rapidly and with low maintenance using a hydroponic system. Within a month or two, enough shade coverage can be produced to make once blazingly hot pavements and cycle paths invitingly cool again. Atidim Park is expecting to install the first system soon, gradually followed by several strategic locations around Tel Aviv. And already there is considerable interest from cities around the world, particularly in Latin America, with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank.
Another hugely promising startup dealing with shade at the Atidim Park living lab is Lumiweave. Their fabrics are an environmental double-win. During the day they provide shade, but they are also embedded with solar cells, which sustainably power lights that shine at night. And these are LED bulbs, so there’s no light pollution. I have to say, I think it’s a brilliant invention, and I was proud to see it win designer Anai Green last year’s C40 Women4Climate Tech Challenge award.
Another transformative green tech solution from CityZone is heading for Britain. RadGreen provides environmental monitoring, both indoors and outdoors, at a fraction of previous costs, to help make cities safe. The system gives cheap yet accurate readings for air pollution, radiation, noise and other variables that determine our health, especially at schools, bus stops or along main roads. The system is deployed across Israel. Next stop London.
Here in Tel Aviv, it seems we are at a tipping point. Electric vehicle sales have surged, congestion charges are being introduced and the city municipality is pushing residents to ditch their cars for walking, cycling and public transport.
That’s just a tiny fraction of the transformative green changes that lie ahead for all countries. As we look towards the COP26 UN climate change conference next month, I know that the startups at CityZone and many other Israeli innovators have so much to share with the rest of the world to meet the defining technological challenge of our times.
Gaby Kaminsky is managing director of Tel Aviv’s CityZone scheme for ecosystem innovation and urban tech startups