Israel’s new tech focus areas: Silicon photonics, metamaterials, black soldier flies

Israel Innovation Authority earmarks $43m for 3 new consortiums to advance solutions in 2023

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

A CMOS silicon photonics chip. (Courtesy: IBM Research/AP)
A CMOS silicon photonics chip. (Courtesy: IBM Research/AP)

Going into 2023, the Israel Innovation Authority has earmarked NIS 150 million ($43 million) for the establishment of new consortiums to support the development of technologies in three areas: integrated photonics, metamaterials and metasurfaces, and black soldier fly farming.

The selected consortiums, a group of industrial companies and research institutions that will jointly develop technologies, will use the allocated funding to operate over the next three years.

“The funding provided for these three consortiums forms part of the authority’s strategy to encourage high-risk endeavors within the Israeli tech industry, while developing new core capabilities that will enable penetration into groundbreaking new markets with disruptive technologies, both for startup companies and large corporations,” said Aviv Zeevi, VP Technological Infrastructure at the Israel Innovation Authority.

The first consortium, funded with a budget of about NIS 40 million, will focus on integrated photonic light rather than electronic current as a tool for data processing, chips, and communications and interception systems. The group will work on a platform for silicon photonics solutions used for building quantum computers, which chip design firms can use to integrate the technology into their chips. Silicon photonics has been drawing more demand by startups as the optical technology can process and transfer data far more briskly for more energy-efficient computing than the electrical conductor technology.

According to data from MarketAndMarket, in 2021, the silicon photonics market has reached $1.1 billion, driven by high demand for silicon photonics components. The market value of silicon photonics is expected to increase to $4.6 billion by 2027.

For this consortium four companies have been chosen – Elop, Cielo, Quantum Source and New Photonics – to work alongside silicon researchers from Haifa’s Technion, Tel Aviv’s Bar-Ilan University, and Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.

An illustrative photo of a Black Soldier fly. (Brett Hondow via Pixabay)

The second consortium, which gets NIS 55 million in funding, will work on the advancement of metamaterial and metasurfaces technology, which is based on an “intelligent combination of nano- or micro-structures, to create artificial electromagnetic materials with specified engineered properties, allowing manipulation of the electromagnetic wave that passes through the material.

“The passage of the electromagnetic wave through a metamaterial medium changes the wave’s front in a calculated manner and allows highly efficient redesign of the fields and flow of energy, to fabricate unconventional mirrors, thin lenses, adjustable antennas, wide-angle absorbers and more,” the IIA said. “The metamaterials and metasurfaces consortium seeks to further these technologies within Israeli academia and industry, to make it possible to design and integrate such components in various systems (such as communications and optics).”

Among the eight companies involved in the consortium are Elbit Systems, Ceragon, and SatixFy Communications, and they will be supported by 10 academic research groups from the Technion, Hebrew University, Weizmann Institute, Tel Aviv University, Ariel University, Bar-Ilan University and Ben-Gurion University.

“The technologies that will emerge from the meta consortium will boost
the domestic industry’s competitive advantage in a large and still growing market and will enable the continued rollout of a range of advanced technologies in medical diagnostics (MRI and endoscopy), satellite communication and low-cost adjustable antennas, advanced sensors and LiDAR, and avionics support systems,” Zeevi noted.

The third consortium, for which NIS 28 million was budgeted, will focus on technologies surrounding black soldier flies (Hermetia illucens) for their development as a new farm animal. The insects are being touted as an essential part of the agricultural industry as they can break down organic waste and be used as inexpensive, protein-packed animal feed. Their larvae, which grow in refuse, can convert various forms of organic waste into quality products (protein, oils, manure and more).

The technology companies chosen for the consortium, which include waste recycling and genetics companies as well as startups that develop food for livestock, will be linked up with academic research groups from the Volcani Institute, Migal, University of Haifa, Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University, to develop computational infrastructures necessary for the commercial viability of the use of black soldier flies and development of products.

“Today, black soldier fly products have been approved for use only for feeding livestock, but it is near certain that in the future, their use will be expanded to humans for the production of food, cosmetics and medicine,” the IAA said in a statement.

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