Israel’s Ormat makes clean fuel that is good to go

Ormat’s CEO Yehudit ‘Dita’ Bronicki with her husband Lucien: We started working in clean technology a long time ago – in 1965 well before anyone had ever heard of this market. Daryl Hannah rides around in her 1983 El Camino …

Ormat’s CEO Yehudit ‘Dita’ Bronicki with her husband Lucien: We started working in clean technology a long time ago – in 1965 well before anyone had ever heard of this market. Daryl Hannah rides around in her 1983 El Camino making it sexy; Willie Nelson sings about it and brews his own recipe; Woody Harrelson says he is addicted to it: Biodiesel – the hip, new and responsible car fuel of the 21st century and one of today’s hottest biotechnology products that environmentalists can’t enthuse enough about.

The Israeli alternative and renewable energy company, Ormat, is poised to accelerate the biodiesel market and take the use of biodiesel out of the realm of celebrity and environmentalism and into the mainstream. Ormat recently unveiled a new biodiesel formulation that overcomes all current limitations of the fuel. The company expects its biodiesel will be in gas stations within the next two years.

After 40 years of pioneering new forms of energy around the globe with her husband Lucien, Yehudit “Dita” Bronicki, Ormat’s CEO is revving her company’s engines to help phase out polluting, traditional diesel.

“We have developed biodiesel which has the same features as conventional diesel, but that can be used in engines with a concentration of 100 percent biodiesel and without changing anything in the car,” says Bronicki, who co-founded the company with Lucien in 1965.

Biodiesel can be plant or animal-based, but it is usually made from soy or canola oil. It is a renewable energy source, which burns cleaner than regular diesel, is less toxic than table salt, and helps curb America’s dependence on foreign oil.

Its use also helps cut down on greenhouse gases, the major contributor to global warming.

While use of biodiesel is increasing in the US, the fuel is currently limited. Cars that run on diesel, especially older ones, often need to be retrofitted with a special device for the fuel to be processed properly; and in most cases, only a small proportion (between 2 and 5 percent) of the biodiesel can be used in a traditional diesel mix- as per car manufacturer warranty.

And although Ormat expects its biodiesel to be more expensive than traditional diesel in the beginning, Bronicki believes there will be government and state incentives in the US for promoting its use.

“Biodiesel is better for the environment because it is made from renewable resources and has lower emissions compared to petroleum diesel,” advocates the National Biodiesel Board in the US.

She may already be of retirement age in the US, but Bronicki, who manages a company with a net worth of over $1 billion looks both in body and spirit like she is just getting started in the renewable and alternative energy field.

Bronicki retells the company’s beginnings. “We started working in clean technology a long time ago – in 1965 well before anyone had ever heard of this market. We were never hippies, though,” laughs Bronicki when asked about what inspired her. “We were always square people with a clear vision that we wanted to do something in which Israel could excel.”

Today Ormat has realized its vision. It is one of the most important alternative and renewable energy companies in the world, especially in the areas of geothermal energy and energy recovery.

They also have a stake in a multi-billion dollar project with OPTICanada to refine heavy oil spread throughout the Alberta tar sands in Canada. Ormat owns the technology which the Canadian company will be using.

“People need fuel security and fuel diversity,” Bronicki told ISRAEL21c. “We are talking about having independence from Middle East oil in countries like Canada and the US – what we are doing is an important step in making that happen.”

In the area of geothermal energy (taking heat energy from the earth and converting it into usable energy), where Ormat derives most of its income, the 700 man company has commercialized a technology called the Organic Rankine Cycle (ORC).

The ORC enables the production of electricity not only from steam, but also from hot water. Ormat has 11 such energy plants around the world with several at US locations in Nevada and California; Ormat has also built similar units in a Kenyan wildlife reserve taking giraffes into consideration and building structures that the animals can walk around.

“Geothermal power usually follows consumption needs and because of that we generally build our plants in populated areas,” says Bronicki, whose plants produce about 360 Megawatts of power-enough energy to serve about 500,000 people.

Energy recovery is the company’s second most important area of business. Ormat has built a turbine technology that fits to heat-generating factories.

“These turbines collect heat that would otherwise be wasted,” says Bronicki, who notes that the heat from cement kilns and other industrial processes salvaged by the Ormat units equates to about 50,000 pounds worth of fossil fuel saved each day.

She adds, “Most of our applications are along natural gas pipelines which use waste heat collected from gas turbines that drive the compressors.” Energy clients include Basin Electric in North Dakota, Southern California Edison, and Sierra Pacific Power in Nevada.

The energy collected either goes back to serve the customer’s needs or it is sold to utility companies for general use.

Ormat is also manufacturing small gas-fired units for telecom along pipelines, for example along the trans-Alaskan pipeline where such units are in operation for 30 years.

With words such as “carbon neutral” entering the world’s lexicon in recent years, the Bronickis are not surprised to see the cleantech revolution taking form. “We believed in it and have been working in this area for 40 years. Finally today,” says Bronicki, “there is the awareness that cleantech issues come to mind.”

Bronicki recognizes her company’s importance but she believes it will take more than one company’s good intentions and deeds to reverse environmental pollution and global warming. “Ormat is only one drop in the bucket,” she says. “And that bucket should be a cooperative effort of policy makers, and people who influence public opinions in the US and around the world.”

Talking to ISRAEL21c from her American office in Nevada where she commutes to regularly, Bronicki however, is very positive about the future.

“Public opinion is evolving all the time,” she says. “I am sure a change will come about using biodiesel, ethanol, geothermal, recovered and other alternative and renewable energy sources. Awareness is more important in the US than any lobby group.”


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About Karin Kloosterman

Karin Kloosterman lives in Jaffa, Israel. She is a journalist, writer and blogger who focuses on the environment and clean technology from Israel and the Middle East. Published in hundreds of newspapers around the world, Karin also writes for the Huffington Post and Green Prophet.