Israel Chemicals planning to build solar plant in southern Israel

Company says 5.5-megawatt facility, set to supply energy to Dead Sea Periclase Ltd, which produces magnesium products, forms part of overall plan to improve sustainability

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Dead Sea Periclase Ltd. (Shira Sal Webshat, via Israel Chemicals Ltd)
Dead Sea Periclase Ltd. (Shira Sal Webshat, via Israel Chemicals Ltd)

In a step toward greenness, ICL (Israel Chemicals Ltd), which operates some of the country’s most polluting facilities, is to build a 5.5 MW solar power plant in Mishor Rotem, an industrial area east of Dimona in the Negev desert, in the coming months.

The project is part of a broader plan to add tens of megawatts of solar-driven energy to its worldwide operations by 2030, the company said.

The solar-PV plant, covering around 15 acres (60 dunams), will supply all the energy needs of Dead Sea Periclase Ltd, a plant that makes magnesium products on the site.

The planned solar power plant will supply a small part of ICL’s energy consumption: Worldwide, ICL needs 300 MW of energy at any given one time, 200 MW of them in Israel alone.

The company will carry out an experiment to store solar energy in its bromine-based batteries, which are currently used to store regular electricity from the grid.

It also plans to install solar systems on the roofs of various production sites as well as on water reservoirs it owns.

Executive vice president for Global Operations Nitzan Moshe said ICL was intent on integrating environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) principles into its operations and on making the corporation’s business as sustainable as possible before it is required to do so by law.

“Ten years ago, nobody was talking about sustainability,” he told The Times of Israel. “But people have made the connection between COVID-19 and the environment, and now, at conferences, they’re talking about sustainability all the time.”

ICL Fertilizers' Dead Sea Works, the world's fourth largest producer and supplier of potash products (Photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Israel Chemicals’ Dead Sea Works, the world’s fourth largest producer and supplier of potash products. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

ICL, located mainly in the south of Israel, extracts a range of minerals from the Dead Sea and from Negev Desert mines and processes them for use in fertilizers and commodities used in the electronic and health industries.

Globally, it has 42 industrial sites in 13 countries and employs some 11,000 workers.

Over the past year, ICL has moved most of its production facilities to natural gas, lowering its annual global carbon dioxide emissions from 4 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents (equivalent to more than 53,000 tanker trucks’ worth of gasoline) to just above 3 million, with the aim of reaching 2.3 million metric tonnes equivalent (just under 31,000 gasoline-laden tanker trucks) by 2030.

Natural gas is far less polluting than other fossil fuels but may contribute just as much to global warming, because its production process releases a lot of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. The company was unable to provide details on methane emissions.

According to its corporate responsibility report, published in August, ICL is aiming at a 20% increase in the use of renewable energies from year to year.

It has also set itself the goal of cutting total emissions by 45% by 2030, compared with a baseline year of 2008, claiming that it has already cut 24% via the move to natural gas, increased renewable energy use overseas, reduced emissions from chemical processes and reached better energy efficiency.

In other sustainable enterprises, the company is producing fibers for use in the meatless meat industry, and owns a UK company that produces fertilizers with lower than usual amounts of energy.

ICL, which is 45.86 owned by the Israel Corporation, is allocated pollution permits by the Environmental Protection Ministry and is among the several hundred largest concerns in Israel that must report annually, by law, to the ministry on the quantity of dozens of different kinds of gases emitted by its factories. On this basis, the ministry publishes an industrial emissions register once a year.

In the register for 2019 published in September, the Environmental Protection Ministry ranked ICL’s Rotem Amfert, which operates open-pit phosphate mines, as the fourth costliest company in the country in terms of the impact of its air pollution.

Rotem Amfert Negev. (Screenshot)

Three and half years ago, the same company caused lasting environmental damage when a storage pool partially collapsed, sending between 100,000 and 250,000 cubic meters of acidic phospho-gypsum liquid into the nearby Ashalim stream, a dry riverbed, destroying everything in its path and poisoning a third of the local ibexes in its wake as well as other animals and plants.

Together with Dead Sea Periclase Ltd, it is also the subject of the biggest environmental class action suit in Israeli history, accused of polluting groundwater and a popular spring and stream at the Ein Bokek nature reserve near the Dead Sea.

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