It’s the kind of project that should bring a smile to the face of every leader in the Middle East: A true regional partnership, brokered by three peace foundations – that is about to reduce biomass pollution for Israelis, Jordanians and Palestinians.
Even better, it will transform biomass waste into biofuel, so that farmers and industrialists can turn a profit while simultaneously creating much-needed jobs in the region.
The idea was initiated by the Peres Center for Peace at an annual conference in Germany – the Jordanian-Israeli Forum on Economic Cooperation in 2008. A joint Jordanian-Israeli company, MME New Diesel Company, with technology supplied by a German company, will run the biofuel initiative.
It will alleviate an excess of plant-derived biomass build-up in three regions – Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority – and will create fuel to literally power Middle East peace.
In addition to the Peres Center, partners in its vision and installation include the Wittenberg Center for Global Ethics and the Amman Center for Peace and Development.
Using two problems to create a solution
According to organizers, the new pilot facility to be built in Israel in the northern part of the Arava Desert is strategically located to serve the three communities.
It will be built to produce one million barrels of biofuel, while alleviating thousands of tons of dry organic waste. It will be a closed system, so no emissions or pollution will emanate from the plant, which will also be self-powered.
Oren Blonder of the Peres Center’s Agriculture, Water and Environment Department tells ISRAEL21c: “In this region agriculture waste is a huge problem. It comes from food crops, from orchards and from pruning leaves and trees. [Where land is limited] it’s a big problem for the entire region – for Israel, for Palestine and for Jordan.
While biofuel is an attractive source of alternate energy, there is also a dilemma involved in growing crops specifically for biofuel. It requires the conversion of large swathes of land to grow the crops, and that can lead to steep rises in the costs of agricultural products and severe food crises in basic crops like rice and wheat.
“We at the Peres Center are aware of the sensitivities to first generation bio-diesel which is in direct competition with food. As a policy we never deal with first generation biofuels. The new company will produce second-generation biofuels taking two environmental problems to create a solution,” Blonder explains.
Business-to-business for peace
To solve the problem locally without causing a new problem, the Peres Center decided to jumpstart this new initiative and help create a solution for the entire region, and not just one that would be in the business interests of a single company.
And so, MME-IL was formed, with CEO Ilan Friedlander as the Israeli CEO. Due to escalating political tensions in Jordan, with a population that is about 70 percent Palestinian, the Jordanian partners have asked to remain anonymous to avoid persecution.
The business aspect is an important part of the peace formula, says Blonder. “Business-to-business creates job opportunities for both sides to help promote peace. And it’s a pure private enterprise – we at the Peres Center don’t have anything to do with the company – we just helped raise funds from government sources.”
All of the peace projects that the Agriculture, Water and Environment Department of the Peres Center takes under its wing have a similar flavor. Like its namesake, Shimon Peres, Israel’s President, the Peres Center seeks to advance peace by bringing together Arabs and Israelis from various spheres.
“We met and decided to establish a joint company – MME-IL and helped introduce partners and helped raise the needed financials for their R&D. The main idea behind the company is to produce second generation bio-diesel from biomass and specifically from agricultural waste,” says Blonder.
Sharing benefits and profits
The impact of the project will be felt far and wide – by individual farmers, agricultural cooperatives, regional organizations and ultimately by the local populations.
“As far as I know – it’s meant to be for two or three years as a pilot project that will produce about one million barrels of biofuel. That’s the goal,” states Blonder, noting that the profits will be shared equally among the business partners from Israel and Jordan.
The Palestinians won’t be business partners in MME, but their farmers will benefit from a new source of income as they will now be able to sell agricultural waste to the plant, rather than burning it which has been the local tradition so far.
“The company will buy waste from the farmers from the entire region – the idea is not specifically [to help the] Palestinians but to create a new source of energy,” Blonder continues.
“This is going to give an answer to the environment problem,” asserts Blonder, who will provide a workshop on the topic at the upcoming WATEC water conference in Tel Aviv in November.
So there will be a new source of energy: One that comprises layers of peace, trust, understanding, environmental and financial gain. Imagine how your car could run on that.