In recycled waste booths, Israel’s fast-growing climate tech sector holds confab

The line to enter Israel’s first climate technology conference in Tel Aviv was long, with people greeting, hugging and chatting in a range of languages ​​that included German and Portuguese alongside Hebrew.

“The fact that a lot of people are wearing jeans and T-shirts means they are all from the tech industry and are serious about it,” noted an attendee at the meeting on Wednesday.

As the line slowly approached the Rabin Center exhibition area, a young man wearing the semi-mandatory uniform of his race said, “I am exhibiting” and was swiftly dragged into the conference space, joking: “This is like the line at the airport.

As with travel, the COVID-19 pandemic has not allowed many of these rallies. But the event was also Israel’s first true conference on global climate technology, a growing field in which Israeli technologies hope to address some of the greatest challenges faced by humanity.

Tomorrow.io, for example, develops weather intelligence software. SeeTree has created a tree intelligence network to increase production. Asterra demonstrated its satellite system capable of locating and analyzing water leaks from underground pipes and Terra Space Lab (TSL) presented its space-based early detection and monitoring system for environmental events such as fires.

The exhibition startups were hosted in temporary building structures made with materials developed by UBQ, a startup that converts unsorted household waste into a recycled thermoplastic material to be used in products. Multilayer PVC panels made with UBQ products have replaced the petroleum-based plastics used for conference infrastructure, which have a higher carbon footprint.

A SeeTree drone flying over the fields (courtesy)

“All of these structures were built by us,” said Tato Bigio, co-CEO and co-founder of the startup, proudly pointing to the square structures housed under a tent-like pavilion. “The cleantech sector is gaining ground in Israel and there is an impressive number of startups on display today.”

When he founded UBQ in 2012, he said, there weren’t many other climate tech companies in Israel.

UBQ has patented a process that takes unsorted household waste and converts it into a bio-based thermoplastic, a substitute for plastic. (UBQ materials)

At the fair, the foodtech startup Solato offered attendees fresh ice cream made on the spot while they waited. This reporter tasted a delicious hazelnut (hazelnut) flavor, brewed via capsules like those used by home espresso machines, albeit larger in size. The capsules, which contain water, fruit concentrate or nuts, fiber and sugar, are placed in the ice cream maker, about the size of a small countertop water cooler, which reads the QR code and processes the request. The same polypropylene capsule, now without ingredients, is then used to serve the ice cream.

The ice cream making process consumes 85 percent less energy than regular ice cream because it needs less refrigeration – it’s served on site – and its carbon footprint is 95 percent lower, the company says.

Sugar and fat levels are also lower, said food technologist Yaron Renasia, because both act as preservatives in the traditional ice cream making process, and Solato’s ice cream is made for immediate consumption.

Another Israeli startup, Cellomat, has promised a “refurbished smartphone revolution” through its machine that recycles old smartphones.

In step with climate technology

Israel, known as the Startup Nation for its prowess in everything related to technology, from software to information technology, artificial intelligence and semiconductors, has lagged behind other nations in climate technologies. This, however, is changing, as policymakers and citizens around the world realize that this is a huge and urgent challenge.

Israeli entrepreneurs are “always attracted” to problems considered unsolvable, said Dror Bin, CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority, on the sidelines of the meeting. “They like ‘mission impossible’.”

Dror Bin, CEO of the Israel Innovation Authority, speaks at PLANETech World 2022 in Tel Aviv, September 21, 2022. (Perry Mendelboym)

When this challenge is coupled with huge market and money demand, and the fact that climate relates to all aspects of human life and activities, they are galvanized into action, he explained.

“I’m sure Israeli entrepreneurs and investors will focus on this area,” Bin told the Times of Israel, “and will be at the forefront” of these technologies. Additionally, climate technology encompasses a wide range of sectors, including food, smart mobility and energy, giving entrepreneurs the opportunity to express their brains in the field that appeals to them the most.

Israeli startups are already leaders in some clusters, such as precision agriculture, alternative proteins, smart mobility and new materials, he said.

“We estimate it will be a very busy ecosystem here,” he added. “And I use every step and every interview to invite business owners, investors, government agencies and academia to really divert their attention to this area.”

The showcase pavilion at PLANETech World 2022 in Tel Aviv, 21 September 2022. (Perry Mendelboym)

The conference was an initiative of the non-profit organization PLANETech, a joint venture of the Israel Institute for Innovation and Consensus Business Group, and was held in partnership with the Israel Innovation Authority. According to a statement from the organizers prior to the event, more than 1,500 attendees from Israel were expected along with 100 startups and climate technology initiatives that showcased their technologies.

Additionally, the event attracted five of the world’s top 10 climate technology-focused investors, including Energy Impact Partners, Plug and Play Ventures, and ENGIE New Ventures.

One of the main goals of the conference was to promote the speech, raise awareness and showcase the most innovative and creative solutions that the Israeli tech industry has to offer, according to the organizers.

Ilana Trombka, director general of the Federal Senate of Brazil, said she came to share experiences on gender equality and innovative solutions with Israel. “There are a huge number of startups here, all thinking about the climate challenge,” along with the people who need solutions, she said. “If they are all in the same place, it is easier to solve problems.”

Ilana Trombka, Director General of the Federal Senate of Brazil, at PLANETech World 2022 in Tel Aviv, 21 September 2022. (Shoshanna Solomon)

According to PLANETech, there are 694 climate tech startups in Israel operating in a variety of sectors including energy, mobility, agriculture, food, circular economy, and water.

One in seven startups formed in 2021 were in the field of climate technology, PLANETech said in its latest report, accounting for 14% of the total number of startups in Israel and up from 9% a year earlier.

According to data provided by the Israel Innovation Authority, investments in Israeli climate technology initiatives in the first half of 2022 reached nearly $ 1.5 billion. In the full year 2021, the figure was close to $ 2.5 billion, up from just over $ 1.5 billion in 2020.

However, the figures are still smaller than the huge amounts invested in other technology sectors in Israel. Total investment in Israel’s tech sector reached a whopping $ 25.6 billion in 2021. But the trend is upward.

“We’re just warming up,” said the Innovation Authority’s Bin. According to the PLANETech report, investments in climate technology companies in Israel from 2018 to 2021 increased 340%, 2.6 times faster than global investments in the sector.

Joern-Carlos Kuntze, co-founder and partner of Extantia Capital, a German-based venture capital fund that invests in climate technology and has assets of 300 million euros (295 million dollars), was having a drink with Oliver Schwarzer, the fund’s CFO and partner. Almost the company’s entire team of about 12 people was attending the event in Tel Aviv, he said.

Extantia has invested just under 10 million euros ($ 9.9 million) in each of the three Israeli startups as part of its newly launched fund, he said. One of the investments is in H2Pro, a Caesarea-based company looking to produce low-cost hydrogen in large quantities, which has also secured funding from Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Although Kuntze declined to disclose the names of the other two Israeli startups that Extantia has invested in, he said they operate in the thermal energy and direct air capture sectors.

Joern-Carlos Kuntze and Oliver Schwarzer, partner of Extantia Capital, at PLANETech World 2022 in Tel Aviv, 21 September 2022. (Shoshanna Solomon)

Israeli companies make up a quarter of Extantia’s global investment portfolio of 12 startups, he said, and the VC fund has a representative in Israel looking for more.

“Israel has been ignoring the industry for a while, probably waiting to see what others in the industry were doing,” Kuntze said. “But now they see that Europe is pushing hard on the ground and they realize that energy dependence is a problem and that this is a threat that affects and unites us all”.

“The fact that we are here with our entire team demonstrates our commitment to the region and we think there is good potential here,” he told The Times of Israel.

Authorities and politicians need to make sure that startups can deploy and pilot their technologies locally, and they need to remove all obstacles to the development of these innovations, he added.

“There is a lot of knowledge here and the climate can be a pillar for the Israeli economy and Israel can be a leader in climate technology.”

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