Few people realize just how much water goes into the makings of modern civilization. It takes 40 liters of water to turn a stalk of wheat into a slice of bread — and that’s aside from the 1,300 liters of water needed to grow a kilo of wheat. Generating one megawatt hour (1,000 kilowatt hours) of electricity requires 1.6 barrels of oil, but you also need 30,000 gallons of water to do the job. Even producing a sheet of paper requires 10 liters of water — excluding the water needed to grow the tree that the paper was produced from.
Considering the fact that only 3% of the water on earth is fresh water, and that more than half of that is in the form of inaccessible glaciers, it becomes clear just what an essential service Israeli water filtration leader Amiad provides to the world, with products that allow water companies and governments to filter out contaminants and produce clean water for users.
One of the first (and the biggest) water technology companies in the world, Amiad sells to 180 countries around the world, and employs over 400 people at its Galilee headquarters, said company CEO Arik Dayan. “In Israel, we have reached the point where we are able to recycle about 90% of our wastewater, and this is a model we are hoping to implement in the places where we work, to as great an extent as possible.”
Water filtration is not the “sexiest” technology in the world, admits Dayan, but it is one of the most important. “What we produce is true green technology, benefiting not just the environment, but helping to feed humanity. About 70% of fresh water is used in agriculture, while another 19% goes to industry.
As the population of the world grows, and more people in the developing world enter the middle class, the need for fresh water has skyrocketed. We are going to have to increase crop yields by 50% within two decades in order to feed the 8.3 billion people who will be inhabiting the world.
“With more demand comes more competition, and we have already seen wars breaking out over water,” Dayan added. In other words, advanced water filtration of the type offered by Amiad is important not just for the food economy – it is likely to be a key element in preventing war in the future.
The results speak for themselves. “I recently visited India together with Economic Minister Naftali Bennett, where we met with some of Amiad’s customers. They told us that with our systems, they are able to recycle enough water to grow ten kilos of cucumbers in an area where they previously had been able to grow just one kilo,” said Dayan, who has heard versions of that story from around the world. “Ensuring that there is enough clean water to grow the food burgeoning populations need is a concern for farmers and governments everywhere, and in many areas governments are beginning to legislate use of recycled water,” with Amiad supplying the technology to filter out pollutants.
While Amiad, established in 1962, was one of the first companies in the world to produce advanced water filtration systems, today there are many competitors in the field. Amiad keeps its edge, said Dayan, by producing new technologies that it incorporates into products. For example, Amiad recently got into the water ballast business, and a “growth area” that is yielding not only new customers, but also new and improved technologies used in the core filtration business.
Under a new agreement that will take effect in 2015, nations belonging to the UN’s International Maritime Union (IMU) will have to purify ballast water they take on before discharging it. In order to ensure stability on the high seas, ships generally take on ballast water, which ensures that they do not tip over (heel) when hitting rough seas. But ballast water has, especially in recent years (as more giant ships than ever ply the oceans) become a major environmental hazard.
Bacteria, creatures, plants, and other features of one area are scooped up as part of ballast water when ships leave a port, and are discharged when a ship arrives at its destination – transferring not just the water, but invasive species or diseases that local aquatic life is unable to tolerate. In 1998, for example, a freighter from Europe dumped zebra mussels, native to the Caspian and Black Seas, into Lake St. Clair, and within a decade it became a dominant species there and in all of the neighboring Great Lakes, crowding out native species and costing the US billions of dollars a year. More tragically, an Asian ship in the mid-1990s discharged ballast water off the coast of Peru. The water contained a strain of cholera that infected local shellfish, which led to the deaths of 12,000 people.
Under a 2004 agreement – implementation of which has been postponed numerous times – ships, beginning in 2015, are going to have to filter the ballast water they dump at foreign ports. “This is a huge market,” said Dayan. “Many companies are trying to get a piece of it, but we have a big advantage because of our previous work with water officials in many countries.” The filtration technology Amiad has had to develop for its ship filtering product has helped the company upgrade its filters for municipal water systems, he added, allowing the company to produce better and more effective products for all of its markets.
Israel is recognized the world over for its innovation in water technology, said Dayan, and Amiad was proud to be a part of that. “We feel that we are very good ambassadors for Israel,” Dayan said. “We work in many places where Israel is not loved, to say the least, but we are proud of our roots, and we do not take any steps to hide it. All around the world, Israeli water technology is seen with great admiration, and we are proud to be a part of this.”