Once a tiny speck in the great sea of Israeli startups, the “blue tech” industry of companies innovating maritime technologies is now making waves. Size.
In September, the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology named Blue Tech one of Israel’s top research and development priorities for the next five years.
This comes after the launch in July of the National Center for Blue Economy and Innovation, which aims to build sustainable technological innovation and entrepreneurship in the maritime space.
A few months earlier, the government approved a NIS 170 million plan to develop an international seafood production center in Eilat. And this month, the Red Sea resort town is hosting a major international summit sponsored by the government under the Sea the Future banner.
Israel has 204 kilometers (126 miles) of coastline in the Mediterranean and Red Seas combined, and its marine footprint – coastal waters, territorial waters and its exclusive economic zone – dwarfs the country’s terrestrial land area.
It is also a country with a thriving technology industry. But Israel’s blue-tech scene has remained relatively small so far, according to Hilla Haddad Chmelnik, director-general of the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology.
“If you look back at how high-tech industry has evolved in Israel, our national priorities have always been aligned with military investment,” she said. “The three main areas of Israeli high-tech – cyber[security], software development and fintech – they all build on skills developed in the military. No significant high-tech industry has emerged in other areas.”
With its decision to prioritize blue tech, the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Technology accepted the recommendation of Israel’s National Council for Research and Development, which conducted a year-long study to map and define national priority areas based on Israel’s comparative advantages and strategic needs , global competition and other criteria.
“In the next 10 to 20 years, the blue economy will become a big part of the world economy,” said Prof. Peretz Lavie, who heads the R&D council. “Sectors such as marine agriculture and energy production and storage are becoming national priorities in many countries. We must not fall behind.”
The inclusion of blue tech as a top priority area will give the industry and the other four companies selected by the council a head start when it comes to raising parts of the ministry’s NIS 180 million ($50.8 million) annual applied research fund US dollars) to secure.
Multidisciplinary teams, including several public sector stakeholders such as various ministries and coastal communities, are currently working on preparing operational plans for each of the selected areas to determine where the funds should be directed, Haddad Chmelnik said. By the end of this year, they want to submit a national blue-tech draft to the government.
Mapped bodies of water
Around the world, maritime economic activity – also known as the blue economy – is growing rapidly, driven by factors including population growth, dwindling land resources, new technologies and the need to respond to climate change.
The blue economy includes mature industries such as maritime transportation, fisheries, shipbuilding, and port infrastructure, as well as emerging sectors such as marine renewable energy generation, marine biotechnology, underwater mapping and mining, and aquaculture.
The United Nations estimates the size of the global blue economy to be between $3 trillion and $6 trillion per year.
Some markets in the blue economy, such as autonomous shipping, underwater drones, and ocean-derived pharmaceuticals, are expected to double within a few years.
By 2030, “many sea-based industries have the potential to outpace the growth of the global economy as a whole, in terms of both value added and employment,” the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development predicted in 2016.
“Over the past four years, the World Bank has dramatically expanded work on the blue economy,” said Nagaraja Rao Harshadeep, the World Bank’s global head of disruptive technologies and a blue technology expert. “We created a special trust fun called PROBLUE, funded by various countries, which has stimulated both analytical work and project support related to the blue economy.”
In the developing blue economic landscape, it is crucial for countries to learn from each other’s experiences and share ideas, Harshadeep said.
“Every country in the world is in many ways a ‘developing country’ when it comes to blue tech,” he argued, due to rapid technological change and uncertainty caused by climate change.
Blue technology means going green
The Blue Economy is emerging at a time when the oceans around the world are under increasing pressure. A wide range of human activities, including fossil fuel burning and resource overexploitation and pollution, have been damaging oceanic ecosystems for years.
Since the early 2010s, the international community — led by the United Nations, the World Bank and others — has promoted a new approach to the blue economy, in which ocean sustainability is as important as economic development.
Asaf Ariel, who serves as science officer for marine conservation organization EcoOcean, said adopting the international community’s sustainability framework is crucial as Israel invests in the development of blue tech.
“Any [technological] The development – and it doesn’t matter if it’s a giant algae farm or a technology for energy or food production or whatever – has to be done with very strict environmental monitoring to see what the consequences are for the environment,” he said Ariel. “We’re not interested in solving one problem and creating another.”
The blue economy represents an opportunity to forge a new relationship with oceanic ecosystems, said Hila Ehrenreich, executive director of the National Center for Blue Economy and Innovation in Haifa. The center, currently funded by the Municipality of Haifa, was established after the government designated the port city as Israel’s blue economy capital.
By the end of this year, the center hopes to have identified and selected blue-tech entrepreneurs with potential and plans to give them access to financing and business development services. Sustainability, and not just profits, will play a key role in determining funding priorities.
“We will only invest in technologies that have a positive impact on the environment and that can help reduce the carbon footprint,” said Ehrenreich. “The blue economy must always be sustainable and must always protect the maritime environment.”
Based on her mapping of Israel’s maritime economy, Ehrenreich estimates that there are currently about 145 Israeli blue-tech companies. The sector includes a wide range of companies that contribute to various industries, from food production to maritime shipping and resource management.
The growing list of Israeli blue-tech startups includes SeaErra, which is developing an AI-based solution to improve underwater visibility, and ECOncrete, which is installing ocean-friendly concrete for use underwater.
Several companies are working to harness the sea for clean energy. These include BaroMar, which has developed an underwater solution for storing wind and solar energy; Eco Wave Power, which generates electricity from waves; and Nayam Wings, who developed a new wind propulsion system for seagoing vessels based on a rigid wing sail.
“Israel does not have a rich history of sea-based industries,” Ehrenreich said. “But it has a strong foundation of knowledge and research, as well as excellent entrepreneurs who could move us forward.”