Saturday 23 July 2011

Netanyahu may be forced to destroy settlers' homes

By Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

THE INDEPENDENT, Saturday, 23 July 2011

The government of Benjamin Netanyahu is on course for its first major clash with Israeli settlers in the West Bank, before a court deadline expires tomorrow to destroy three homes which have been built without permission in a hilltop outpost near Ramallah.

Israel's high court last month ordered the destruction within 45 days of three permanent dwellings in Migron, an outpost of 48 families mostly living in caravans.

The dwellings were built illegally on land owned by Palestinians. If the government complies, it will be the first time Israel has destroyed permanent settler buildings since 2006, when the bulldozing of nine houses in the Amona outpost triggered violent clashes with Israeli police.

Although illegal, even under Israeli law, Migron was given more than $1m (£612,000) by the Israeli ministry of housing and has a road, water, phone lines, electricity and a permanent army patrol. The high court ordered its closure more than three years ago.

Community leaders and politicians, including prominent members of Mr Netanyahu's ruling Likud Party, pledged their support for the settlers.

Thursday 21 July 2011

Young Israelis in tent-city protests over rising prices

By Matthew Kalman in Jerusalem

THE INDEPENDENT, Friday, 22 July 2011


Israeli demonstrators block a main junction in Tel Aviv

Israeli consumers, frustrated after years of spiralling food and housing prices, burst on to the streets of Tel Aviv this week with a popular protest that has transformed one of the city's smartest neighbourhoods into a hippie-style campsite.

Students and other demonstrators pitched hundreds of tents along Rothschild Boulevard, more famous for its Unesco-protected Bauhaus-style architecture and European-style cafes, to protest about rising prices that they claim are forcing young people out of the city.

The organisers are demanding government action to calm the inflated housing market that has seen rents rise in Tel Aviv by more than 60 per cent in four years. Protestors have also starting camping out in Jerusalem with other tent cities springing up from Beersheba in the south to Haifa and Kiryat Shemona in the north.

News of the protests spread through social media, echoing a successful Facebook campaign last month when consumers forced down the spiralling price of dairy products.

Critics have accused the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of being in thrall to a handful of economic oligarchs who effectively control much of Israel's economy.

"The Israeli public – in all fields – is captive to forces with narrow interests," said an editorial in the daily Maariv newspaper.

In Jerusalem, 40 demonstrators occupied the garden of a home in the exclusive Kfar David neighbourhood. One focus of the protests is the large number of city-centre dwellings built for and bought by wealthy foreigners who leave them empty for most of the year.

A rally on Saturday near the Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv will be the first test of the movement's political muscle. "Israel's government continues to disappoint us, and we feel betrayed," said Daphni Leef, the founder of the protest movement. "The struggle is moving on to the next level. We call on all the tent cities to arrive at Habima Square for a rally that will make the upper echelon shake."

"It's our nation, and it's time to give it back to the people," she added.

Israelis earn on average about 100,000 shekels (£18,000) a year and spend between a half and one-third of their salaries on housing. Food and other costs have also spiralled in recent years, making Tel Aviv the most expensive city in the Middle East.

Many politicians visited the tent cities to show support for the protest but were turned away. Police intervened after one demonstrator poured a bottle of beer over Ron Huldai, the mayor of Tel Aviv.

Friday 8 July 2011

Defying Boycott Vote, U. of Johannesburg Continues Partnership With Israeli Institution

Defying Boycott Vote, U. of Johannesburg Continues Partnership With Israeli Institution


NEWS TICKER July 8, 2011, 2:26 pm

Israel’s Ben-Gurion University and the University of Johannesburg have reinstated a collaborative water-research agreement, defying a vote last March by the South African institution’s faculty senate to cut ties with the Israeli university, reports The Jerusalem Post. The faculty vote had been hailed as the first major success of an international academic boycott campaign against Israel, though the vice chancellor of the Johannesburg university said afterward that the university would not boycott Ben-Gurion.

On Friday, the two universities signed a contract to continue their joint research on water purification and the conversion of algae into energy with the cooperation of scientists from the University of California at Los Angeles and the University of Ghent.

The senate vote followed a decision in September 2010 to end links with its Israeli counterpart if it found “direct or indirect military implications” to the relationship. The senate had called on Ben-Gurion to form partnerships with Palestinian universities and ordered a review of the ties between the two institutions. University of Johannesburg officials had told the senate before the vote in March that no Palestinian university had been found to join Ben-Gurion in the project. The Israeli university has several joint projects with Palestinian universities, researchers, and students.

Tuesday 5 July 2011

A Less Wasteful Way to Deal with Wastewater

Technology Review Published by MIT

An Israeli company aims to commercialize microbial fuel-cell technology.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

By Matthew Kalman

An Israeli company called Emefcy has developed a process that promises to decrease the energy drain of wastewater treatment. This week, Energy Technology Ventures—a joint venture between GE, NRG Energy, and ConocoPhillips—invested in the company, marking the venture's first-ever investment in a non-U.S. company.

Conventional wastewater treatment consumes 2 percent of global power capacity, some 80,000 megawatts, at a cost of $40 billion per year.

Using conventional microbial fuel-cell technology and its own proprietary engineering, Emefcy harvests energy from wastewater, generating enough to power the entire treatment process. In the treatment of particularly carbon-rich industrial wastewater, the company says, the process produces excess electricity that can be fed back into the grid at a profit.

In microbial fuel cells, naturally occurring microorganisms oxidize wastewater. An anode and cathode, placed a critical distance apart in the water, create an electrical circuit from the electrons gained from this oxidation.

Ely Cohen, Emefcy's vice president of marketing, says the company's process reduces the total cost of wastewater treatment by 30 to 40 percent by eliminating spending on energy, and also reduces the amount of sludge that must be trucked away afterward by up to 80 percent.

Traditional wastewater treatment involves forcing air through the water to aerate it. This is also important to the activity of the microbial cells. Emefcy exposes more wastewater to air but without the energy-intensive process of pumping air through water. Instead, the wastewater flows through a "biogenic reactor" made of tubes 1.7 meters in diameter and four meters high. Inside the tubes, water and air flow alongside each other separated by a membrane.

"The reactor is split into two areas," says Emefcy CEO Eytan Levy. "In one area there is a lot of wastewater but there is no air. In the other area there is air but no wastewater. These two areas are separated by a membrane wall and both areas are connected to an electrically-conductive surface on which the bacteria grows."

The electrons produced by the bacteria flow towards the oxygen in the air through nanowires made of naturally-occurring hair-like projections found on the surface of the microbes. "Under these reactor conditions the bacteria develop the ability to convert these pili to become electrically conductive and it behaves just like a metallic wire," says Levy.

The electrodes used are made of a coated plastic, which makes them cheaper, and easier to maintain.

Each stack can process 10 cubic meters of wastewater a day, and has a planned lifespan of 15 years. Stacks can be added on a modular basis, avoiding the need for a large up-front investment in infrastructure. Emefcy hope to begin industrial production this month, with first sales targeted for early 2012.

Itamar Willner, a professor at the Institute of Chemistry at the Hebrew University, and author of a recent review of biofuel cell technology in the journal Fuel Cells, says using microbial fuel cells for the decontamination of wastewater remains "a challenge."

"There is a tremendous difference between a demo system and upscaling to thousands of tons of wastewater, and a difference between artificially contaminated water used for laboratory testing and the real world, where you have different waste and different materials," says Willner.

Lital Alfonta, an assistant professor in the Department of Biotechnology Engineering at Ben-Gurion University, who develops genetically engineered microbial fuel cells, says there has been growing excitement at international conferences over the progress made by Emefcy.

"They use very cheap materials that still give them the highest possible power output," says Alfonta. "They also immensely improved the approach by stacking their electrodes, giving a much higher surface area."

But Alfonta says that 80 percent of the energy generated by the microbes is lost in the process, because the electrons never reach the electrodes. She is researching whether the microbes can be genetically engineered to improve the efficiency of the electron transfer between the microorganism and the fuel cell's electrode.

For the moment, Emefcy will be content if its stacks prove to be energy-neutral, with a little surplus from the industrial wastewater treatment.

"If you're an organization that's looking for renewable energy, don't come to us," says Cohen. "Go to wind. Go to solar. If you have a wastewater problem, come to us and we'll find a way that is very cost-effective and to a certain extent it could even be an energy-positive solution."