Justin McCarthy  | February 4, 2019

In Israel, Sustainability Startups Seek to Revolutionize Food and Water Production

On our ever more crowded planet, with global population expected to push toward 10 billion over the next few decades, access to food and water becomes ever more challenging. During their recent visits to Washington, we met with two sustainability-focused Israeli startups with innovative technologies that may revolutionize the way we produce, for one of them, food, and for the other, water for future generations.

Launched in 2015, Flying SpArk is developing a technology to grow and process fruit fly larvae into food ingredients, including protein powders. While a fly burger may not be your go-to GrubHub order quite yet, consider this: according to the company, every 1,000 tons of protein powder that Flying Spark produces will save 110 million square meters of freshwater, 50,000 hectares of land, and 55,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Insect protein, which is more sustainable than other protein sources, will help to feed the growing population in the future,” says Flying SpArk CTO Keren Kles, who has a background in confectionary production and holds a PhD in Food Science and Technology. Kles heads up technological development for the company, and she sees Flying SpArk’s product as a major part of long-term solutions to agricultural land abuse, overfishing, and environmental degradation of all kinds.

Flying SpArk’s sustainable superfood starts with Ceratitis capitate, the Mediterranean fruit fly. The fly larvae are fed a proprietary diet (no pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics). After seven days, the larvae are processed into protein powders and oil which are rich in minerals and dietary fiber. From there, the possibilities for application are endless—from meat alternatives to milk alternatives, from baked good to burgers.

“The yuck factor is still a challenge,” says Kles, but she’s confident that the cultural tide is turning when it comes to insect consumption. For now, Flying SpArk is just focusing on making the most popular (and environmentally friendly) protein powders and oils on the market. According to Kles, just like in traditional food markets, taste is still king: “If something isn’t delicious, you’re not going to eat it, no matter where it comes from.”

To wash down your Flying SpArk burger, you’ll need some high-quality water. Enter Watergen—which calls its atmospheric H20-generating technology “the innovative answer to the world’s drinking water crisis.”

Started 10 years ago in Israel, the company’s signature offering, GENNY, is a water-from-air system that only requires electricity to produce drinking water, and not much electricity at that—GENNY creates clean water at an average of 8 gallons per day at 8 cents per gallon, and the only byproduct is cleaner air for the surrounding environment.

“It’s the best water you’re going to taste at a cost point that’s incredible,” says Watergen President Yehuda Kaploun, who coordinates strategic partnerships to deliver Watergen’s products to U.S. partners.

Those partners can be found both in and outside of the private sector: Watergen recently assisted the State of California in combatting deadly wildfires by deploying Watergen ERVs (emergency response vehicles) to dispense drinking water, mitigating the emergency situation created by the fire’s destruction of local infrastructure.

“Providing the police and firefighters with the basic necessity of drinking water allows them to serve and help for longer periods of time,” Ed Russo, CEO of Watergen USA, told the Times of Israel.

From offices to military bases and hospitals, the use cases for the medium- and large-scale versions of Watergen’s product are broad and diverse. At the industrial level, Watergen technology can generate up to 5,000 liters daily. In a city like Flint, Michigan, the impact of a system like that could be life-saving—and drastically more cost-effective than conventional solutions to municipal water crises.

Kaploun considers that application of Watergen—as a key implement of humanitarian aid—to be one of the primary applications for this technology. “We’re the solution,” he says, “and we’re not resting on our laurels. We’re making significant advances in the technology that’s going to make the product better, and increase our ability to change the world.”

The time for that type of change is now. The world is facing a water problem, as groundwater basins are drying up, droughts are becoming more common, and growing populations are overloading outdated water systems.

Addressing the challenges of a rapidly dwindling water supply in a world of growing demand will require groundbreaking water technology and sustained dialogue between all stakeholders. In 2016, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launched the Business H2O: Water Innovation Initiative as a way to facilitate this dialogue and highlight new technology discoveries.

The Initiative’s International Roundtable this April will convene multinational companies, U.S. and foreign government officials, and multilateral organizations to showcase technologies that could solve the world water crisis.

Related: Bug Appétit! Crickets Put the Crunch in this Startup’s Chips