On the Bergman campus of Ben-Gurion University (BGU), located in the city of Beer-Sheva on the northern edge of Israel’s Negev Desert, researchers are doing what they can to maximize Israel’s limited natural resources. Here, students in Zeev Weisman’s lab are working with a variety of discarded seed crops like jatropha and castor for use in biofuel development projects.
They’re also working with the waste products of the olive oil industry. According to student Rebecca Willson, the industry discards about two and a half metric tons of inedible oil each year. Although Weisman and his colleagues don’t see biofuels as the long-term solution to climate change, they say they’re an improvement over fossil fuels in the wait for fuel-cell technologies to mature.
Further south, in the heart of the Negev Desert, at Kibbutz Mashabei Sadeh, Amit Ziv is also finding a use for a waste resource. On his fish farm, briny groundwater supplies two different aquaculture crops simultaneously and provides irrigation water and fertilizer to the kibbutz’s farm. The groundwater is run through an outdoor reservoir where sea bass are raised, and then through a group of ponds inside greenhouses housing a second fish crop of striped bass, sea bream and others. The resulting wastewater is used to irrigate jojoba and olive plants, supplying the kibbutz with a steady source of income. A formerly useless water source is now raising fish where they cannot contaminate marine resources, and the waste from the fish farm has become an agricultural resource, providing both fertilizer and clean water.
Similar agricultural ingenuity is performed by all farmers in the Negev desert, and it’s not limited to growing fish. “The Israeli farmer has to be very well educated,” says Eilon Adar, director of the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research. The greatest challenge is water related, but it does not necessarily have to do with water availability. Many plants can only tolerate a certain amount of salt in the soil, and much of the water beneath the Negev Desert has a high salt content.