Earlier this week we’d posted about the biofuel wonders of algae, and hooking pools of the stuff up to smokestacks to siphon off carbon dioxide emissions spewing out of power plants. This isn’t a new idea. There are about 250 companies in the world trying to commercialize biofuel for algae – research that was revived by Isaac Berzin, an Israeli chemist who started up GreenFuel in the United States.
Recently voted a Time Magazine influential for 2008 (a few before Miley Cyrus), last week we car-pooled with Berzin who was so kind to pick up this TreeHugger from her home in Jerusalem. Berzin took us to the Cleantech Israel Meetup in Herzylia, a forum bursting at the seams with investors, entrepreneurs, and business development professionals looking to grow clean technologies in Israel and beyond.
At the meet which takes place every month in Herzylia, Berzin wooed a packed café (the goodies were sponsored by Terra Venture Partners), explaining the potential for Israelis to revolutionize renewable energy. After his talk (which covered some of the points we write about below) Berzin was literally swarmed by people wanting to talk with him. A local celebrity.
We’d interviewed him over on ISRAEL21c earlier, and courtesy of the online magazine (where we are an Associate Editor), here is his story:
Isaac Berzin to enlist Israelis into the business of green
While Israel has some of the world's most promising clean technology companies for producing renewable energy -- consider Ormat and its geothermal power station in Nevada or Solel's solar energy plant in the Mohave Desert - proving viability on Israeli turf has been a sore spot for inventors and would-be international and local investors.
Lack of policy and infrastructure in the Israeli government stalls the rapid implementation of new clean technologies.
This harms not only Israelis who need cleaner, alternative fuel sources, but it is a disservice to the environment and people around the world, who would readily adopt this tiny nation's innovative solutions if proven they could work.
Thanks to a little green vision in the form of algae, Isaac Berzin, the founder of GreenFuel Technologies in Cambridge MA, has returned to Israel to help turn Israeli ingenuity into action.
Now a senior fellow at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, Berzin has plans to build a new Institute for Alternative Energy Policy in Israel under the IDC.
Berzin looks to collect the best-fit alternative energy solutions from across academia and the industry in Israel - about 10 different technology platforms - to build a center of excellence, "10 times bigger and stronger than GreenFuel," Berzin tells ISRAEL21c
Recently voted as a Time Magazine most influential person for 2008, if anyone could build a biofuel powerhouse in Israel it would be Berzin, who has a kind of rock star popularity in the US for his work with GreenFuel. Continuing on as an advisor in the company, he says, "GreenFuel is doing great, the baby is walking now."
Act now, but there's no silver bullet
The father of three, who now lives in Jerusalem, sees the importance of creating a real solution to end the world's dependence on oil within the next few years. If it's not found, in 10 years he says, the planet will have "reached the point of no return."
Taking advantage of Israeli technology and research, Berzin is planning to have a serious biofuel solution ready within five years. While there is no one silver bullet solution, he admits, Israel has all the tools to start making a renewable fuel alternative.
Grow your own solution
Israel's toolbox includes decades-long research into water technologies and grey-water irrigation, and the know-how for taking advantage of low-quality land and growing crops on brackish water. "Algae can grow in salt water, with sewage and on any type of land quality," says Berzin. "The world is moving to a 'grow your own solution' for energy crops, and there is no reason why Israel shouldn't be a leading country in this field," he says.
The new institute he is currently setting up, will develop sustainable and strategic global alternative energy policies and will collaborate with the Institute for the Analysis of Global Security (IAGS) based in Washington, where Berzin is also a senior fellow.
A representative from the IAGS wrote ISRAEL21c, "[We] congratulate senior fellow Dr. Isaac Berzin for his inclusion in TIME Magazine's 2008 list of the world's 100 most influential people. Berzin received this honor for his important scientific contribution to the development of alternative fuels and for his leadership role in the global movement to end the world's oil dependence."
Earlier this month, Berzin signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Energy Technology Laboratory of the US Department of Energy as an "honest broker" for helping his new institute choose what technologies and research to implement. The institute, after all, is expected to be a moneymaking endeavor as well.
According to Berzin, investing in the clean fuel solutions of oil-rich algae is a "zero-risk exercise. The solution is attractive, because I am not punishing the industry.
The world is moving to producing its own energy crops. Algae for biofuel is (finally) an economically viable solution. It is also a moral solution - not competing with food crops on valuable resources such as fertile land and potable water."