09 May 2017
Arad, Israel
Renewable energy and energy efficiency, Resource efficiency and sustainable waste management

A business enterprise in Israel wants to create a waste-free world using its innovative reactor technology. Green O.C. has created a system that can gobble up the waste that no one quite knows how to deal with — the oils, sludges, tyres, and styrofoams of the world.

The business is the brainchild of Gilad Oppenheimer, a serial entrepreneur with a background in mechanical engineering. “When I was a kid I was very connected to nature,” said Oppenheimer, now Green O.C.’s CEO. “I decided that as an adult I preferred to make money in a way that does good, improves the world, and innovates to contribute to all aspects of the environment.”

Oppenheimer teamed up with two returning Israelis — Michal Fonea Alexandron, who has a background in responsible investments and environmental policy, and her father, Dr. Jacob Fonea, a serial industrial entrepreneur who has spent the past four decades establishing pyrolysis, energy, and recycling facilities in Europe and eastern Europe.

Finding a solution for hazardous waste:

According to a report published by Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry, the country produces approximately 300,000 tons of hazardous waste each year, only a third of which is being recycled. Accordingly, the government recommended companies pay disposal fees to have their hazardous waste either treated or exported for recycling.

Green O.C. saw the market and plotted course to deal with that recycling in-country. A government-run company currently holds the monopoly on hazardous waste disposal but is financially struggling to develop innovations needed to process all kinds of waste. While regulatory approvals have posed some challenges, Green O.C. is well on its way to providing an alternative to burying and burning waste — two current tactics that are more makeshift measures than viable solutions.

 

The Prime Minister’s Office has said the government is open to taking a progressive stance on alternative fuels and waste disposal projects like Green O.C.: “[Israel] offers cutting edge research projects, a supportive regulatory and financial ecosystem backed by a long-term government plan, and above all, an entrepreneurial spirit that can meet any challenge.”

Biotechnology for social good:

Green O.C. uses reactor technology to recycle hazardous waste. While similar technology has been around for decades, it has never reached industry-level success. Innovations in their technology and processing method have meant Green O.C. is able to recycle mixed waste in a more effective manner than past attempts.

The company has developed a proof of technology that is already processing various types of waste. It started with a 40 liter reactor and has since scaled to include tests on a 4,000 liter container.

Here is how the reactor processes a hazardous material like sludge: the sticky, mud-like substance is added to a pre-treatment container which slowly warms it to become more liquid. The liquid is then moved to the reactor — basically a huge cooking pot devoid of oxygen. The sludge and other wastes are added and stirred throughout the reaction process. From there, the reactor is brought to a high temperature and the molecules separate. The result is three main products: syngas, which powers the reactor; a liquid that is eventually distilled to become diesel; and cox, a fine ash used to make cement and roads.

After developing their specialized reactor technology, Green O.C. decided on its diet: oils, sludge, bilge, tyres, styrofoam, and plastics of all sorts. It is a laundry list of some of the world’s most hazardous, least renewable materials.

 

In Israel, reactor technology turns toxic waste to fuel | The Switchers

Earlier this month, Fonea Alexandron who took on the role of Green O.C.’s Business Development Manager, went on an unconventional cross-country road trip. She visited sites around the country in search of special waste to feed Green O.C.’s reactor. Her travels yielded such souvenirs as large plastic sheets used in greenhouses, irrigation hoses, and plastic waste (including food residue) from packing factories.

“We really try to challenge the reactor,” said Fonea Alexandron. “We discovered that we do not need to put in homogeneous waste. It can be mixed and processed all at once.” This means hours and dollars saved on what would otherwise be an intensive sorting of waste.

A unique business advantage of Green O.C. is that revenue is collected at both ends of the reaction process. Refineries, tyre collectors, and other waste collection companies pay to have their materials recycled in an environmentally sustainable way. The cost is lower than what it would be to send the same material to landfills or incineration plants. On the other end, diesel, syngas, and cox are all highly desired items on the market.

As for the companies, they approach to propose processing their hazardous waste, the response can be frosty — at first. Fonea Alexandron says that is due to a lack of knowledge around recycling and reactor technology.

“In the end, it is an obvious decision,” she said, as she described companies coming around to Green O.C.’s model. “If you think ahead about regulations, it is inevitable that the government will decide you have to use the technology that will best process the waste. Most organizations and corporations now have corporate social responsibility goals, and what we do definitely fits within that.”

Diversity an important part of Green O.C.’s business plan:

Green O.C. is planning to have its full factory operational within the next two years. The factory is expected to hold three 10,000 liter reactor containers, and have the ability to process 50,000 tons of waste each year. Pending final regulatory approval, it will be located in Arad, a town of 26,000 people in southern Israel. The choice of location is a key part of Green O.C.’s business values.

 

“When I was a kid I was very connected to nature. I decided that as an adult I preferred to make money in a way that does good, improves the world, and innovates to contribute to all aspects of the environment,”Gilad Oppenheimer, CEO of Green O.C.
In Israel, reactor technology turns toxic waste to fuel | The Switchers

Arad is home to a diverse population of various ethnic minority groups, namely an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community that can have difficulty fitting into the job market, under-employed but highly skilled Russian immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and Bedouins.

“A lot of factories have left Arad in the past few years,” said Oppenheimer, who developed a soft spot for southern Israel after completing his university studies in the region. “In Arad, we found really talented people who want to come work and create a relationship that adds real value to their city.”

Green O.C. will be hiring 30 to 40 employees to get the factory up and running and plans to recruit almost exclusively from the local community. It wants to accommodate the needs of each specific minority group, and tailor the factory based on their desired working conditions. Professional training combined with this flexibility and government incentives is meant to encourage long-term employment.

 

In Israel, reactor technology turns toxic waste to fuel | The Switchers

For Green O.C., diversity makes a lot of sense, both socially and economically. “None of us lives in Tel Aviv, and so we are very much about developing the economic peripheries,” Fonea Alexandron explained. “Diversity is something we personally relate to and find important, and including this was key from the start.”

Arad’s Mayor Nisan Ben-Hamo, said that Green O.C. offers an answer to one of the region’s biggest challenges: employment.

“A factory like this promotes quality positions and not just minimum wage jobs,” he expanded. “We want to inspire a change in the way citizens, especially youth, see the city. This factory is in tune with our vision of creating a place where sustainability is possible and becomes a reality and where the population sees itself taking part of something new, advanced, and special.”

Scaling reactor recycling worldwide:

Imagine lakes of sludge — millions of tons of waste awaiting an environmental disaster. This is the current situation in many eastern European countries, including Romania and Hungary where hazardous waste has leached into rivers; in 2010, a deluge of overflowing sludge killed eight people.

While contributing to the management of hazardous materials in Israel, Green O.C. eventually wants to “copy and paste” its solution worldwide, creating a series of joint ventures with local partners, starting with eastern Europe. The company is always on the lookout for partners who may be interested in getting involved.

Oppenheimer and Fonea Alexandron are not concerned that their major competitor is a government-owned company. They both say the Ministry of the Environment has been supportive of their idea. “Everyone knows that other solutions have to come, and if that solution is better and creating less pollution than no one can stop it,” Oppenheimer added.

Besides, he said, his team likes the challenge.

Green O.C. Resource efficiency and sustainable waste management
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