Hydroponic agriculture

In addition to young farmers themselves, Eretz-Noshevet also will support groundbreaking startups from more established agricultural entrepreneurs that will help the next generation of farmers.

One such entrepreneur is Lior Hessel, 54, who introduced hydroponics to Israel in 1999 in partnership with his alma mater, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. His engineering company, GrowPonics, manages hydroponic farms around the world – including one on Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison’s Hawaiian island.

Hessel founded AlgaeNite in 2018 to provide a sustainable alternative to today’s chemical and organic fertilizers. Chemical fertilizers leave a large carbon footprint and come from fossil fuels, while organic fertilizers are expensive and often contain pharmaceutical and hormone residues that end up in food.

“We decided to find a third way because we have to supply high-quality food at reasonable prices and it has to be sustainable,” says Hessel.

AlgaeNite’s novel solution, developed by Ben-Gurion University Prof. Sammy Boussiba, turns nitrogen from the air into fertilizer with the help of cyanobacteria, which are half bacteria, half green-blue algae.

“They do something extraordinary: They fix atmospheric nitrogen and create ammonia using the sun as their source of energy,” says Hessel. “It’s like the cyanobacteria have solar panels attached to them. The process is entirely organic, sustainable, and carbon-negative for emissions.”


Lior Hessel growing cyanobacteria to make affordable, organic bio-ammonia fertilizer. Photo courtesy of AlgaeNite

AlgaeNite is building its first production facility in southern Israel and will do so in the United States and Europe next year. Investment from Eretz-Noshevet would enable upscaling to full commercial size.

“Nobody was ever able to grow these strains of algae before,” says Hessel.

“We are focused on organic fertilizer, but they also can be used for plant-based fish or meat protein alternatives, animal feed, cosmetics and bioplastics. This could be the beginning of a new era in agriculture — and it will start in Israel.”

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