Going from development on Israel’s world famous Iron Dome missile defense system to maximizing energy usage might sound a little odd, but to Ron Halpern, chief commercial officer at mPrest, the software company behind the platform, the transition was a natural one.

“Iron Dome essentially is a real-time distributed asset optimisation system; the assets happened to be interceptors,” Halpern tells NoCamels.

mPrest used the principles behind Iron Dome to create the mDERMS energy management system (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

Having developed the command and control system for Iron Dome, the 20-year-old, Petah Tikva-based company “went on an Internet of Things journey,” as Halpern puts it, and decided to apply the principles used to create the missile defense software to making electricity plants more efficient and sustainable. 

“Fundamentally, from an architectural perspective, we’re continuing to do the same thing,” he says.  “We do asset health management as performance management in the electric grid.”  

mPrest used its optimization technology to create a new distributed energy resource management system (DERMS). These systems are designed to maximize efficiency on a power grid through both the supplier (referred to in the industry as “front of the meter”) and the consumer (known as “behind the meter”). 

“We’re creating a single picture, a single view, a single process – the virtual process – and we’re analyzing that process and optimizing that process,” Halpern says. 

The company’s unique platform, known as mDERMS, manages all aspects of a power grid’s performance, integrating with existing software such as analytics and hardware such as sensors and providing a bottom-up image of the infrastructure for the operators and a detailed breakdown of their energy consumption for users. 

Illustrative: mDERMS presents a bottom-up presentation of a power grid’s performance (Unsplash)

mDERMS also integrates power from those users who supply the grid with clean energy they have themselves produced through wind, hydro or solar power on their property. These independent energy producers band together to form consortiums in order to sell a substantial amount of power to utility companies, rather than the negligible amounts they produce individually. 

These consortiums are known as virtual power plants (VPPs) and the power they provide supplements the grid, making it more sustainable. 

What sets mPrest apart, Halpern says, is its holistic AI-driven approach – merging the clean energy from the VPPs, optimization of resources and advanced storage capabilities to create what he calls “a dynamic and efficient energy ecosystem.” 

The main target function of the mDERMS is to ensure that from an operational perspective, everything is optimized, he explains. 

The software can put together a plan to dilute energy consumption across a longer period of time so that there is not a peak of demand at certain hours, such as when people come home from work. 

This is known as “peak shifting,” Halpern says, and also involves the utility company charging less at certain times in order to encourage more usage at those hours. 

Mass use of energy-heavy assets such as air conditioning units can put great stress on a power grid (Pexels)

“Everyone comes home in the summer and turns on their air conditioner, they want the house to be cold,” he says. 

“[But] instead of cooling the air conditioner at 6pm, let me start cooling at 5pm and then by 6pm it’ll be cold; I’ll turn it off or adjust the thermostat so that I won’t have a peak at 6pm when it’s inconvenient for the utility.”  

The same is true in winter, when water heaters go on as people arrive home and want to shower. By switching on heaters earlier in the day, people still have hot water but do not place such strain on the grid. 

And when the supplier is under high stress, mDERMS has the ability to tap into renewable power provided the VPPs, which is stored in batteries off the grid. 

In Israel, Halpern says, the government is promoting external power storage and VPPs – primarily based on solar power due to the country’s Mediterranean/desert climate, with long summers and mild winters.

mDERMS draws on renewable energy to alleviate pressure on a power grid in peak hours (Pexels)

mPrest has already worked with the state-owned Israel Electric Corporation to optimize its performance and recently signed an agreement with the EDF Renewables Israel, the local subsidiary of an international developer and operator of renewable power plants. 

But, Halpern says, the majority of its business is on the international level, where both the distribution and the VPP technology is in demand. 

Utility companies want grid stability and the ability to offer better services to their customers, he says, so they need a system such as mDERMS. 

“From a utility’s perspective, the main priority is to keep the lights on,” he says. 

With Rosh Hashana honey in mind, ISRAEL21c visits an apiary to see how BeeHero produces insights for beekeepers and growers trying to feed a growing world.

When I dip an apple slice in honey on the first night of Rosh Hashana this Friday, I’ll remember suiting up for a bee encounter at the largest private beekeeping operation in Israel on Sunday.

Members of the press were invited to Boaz Kanot Apiary in southern Israel to see how ag-tech company BeeHero monitors the wellbeing of hardworking honeybees in 200,000 hives on five continents.

Honey is, of course, a valuable commodity produced from nectar by honeybees.

However, bees’ main role is pollination. Bees, especially easily transportable honeybees, unintentionally pollinate about 75 percent of the crops we eat as they fly around collecting pollen from flowers to feed their eggs and larvae.

But honeybee colonies are declining due to disease, pesticides, adverse weather and other life-threatening conditions. There aren’t enough bees to sustain pollination for a rapidly increasing world population.

“Our mission is to future-proof the global food supply by saving bees,” says Eytan Schwartz, VP Global Strategy for BeeHero.

Translating bee language

BeeHero cofounders Itai Kanot, Omer Davidi, Yuval Regev. Photo courtesy of BeeHero

In 2017, Boaz Kanot’s son, Itai, founded BeeHero with Omer Davidi and Yuval Regev.

BeeHero’s IoT sensors inside beehives collect essential data on temperature, humidity, acoustics and other parameters.

The hive data is then correlated with outside data, such as weather conditions, and analyzed in the cloud by advanced algorithms and AI.

BeeHero’s sensor keeping tabs on a hive. Photo courtesy of BeeHero

Beekeepers get real-time insights about colony health and productivity. Farmers get real-time insights to help them plan pollination strategies.

“BeeHero is the first company to continuously log data from hives 24/7, providing more transparency into the hives than ever before possible, and producing more insights for beekeepers and growers around the world,” said CEO Davidi.

BeeHero monitors the bees in this almond orchard. Photo courtesy of BeeHero

Regev, the company’s CTO, said the bees’ constant communication gives each hive a unique acoustical signature.

When bees communicate stress — for example, the queen is gone or the hive is overcrowded or lacking water or food — BeeHero “translates” the conversation for the beekeeper, who can then take action to avoid colony collapse.

“By connecting the hive to the Internet, beekeepers don’t need to go into each hive to check what is going on. They can just go into the app where we provide information for beekeepers to do their job better,” said Regev.

“Last year, the mortality rate of hives was 48% for regular beekeepers [in the United States]. For those using BeeHero, the number dropped to 27%.”

Staying comfortable

Abigail Klein Leichman suited up at Kanot Apiary. Photo by Efraim Roseman/Government Press Office

BeeHero Chief Biologist Doreet Avni, and we reporters, put on protective suits before examining the system at work in one of many bee boxes at Kanot Apiary.

In 90-degree Fahrenheit heat, the overalls, head coverings and disposable gloves were mighty uncomfortable, helping to illustrate the advantages of the BeeHero system.

“Ordinarily, beekeepers have to suit up, go outside in any kind of weather and inspect hives frame by frame. In an operation with thousands of colonies it’s almost impossible to do this,” said Avni, who has been researching honeybees for over 30 years.

BeeHero Chief Biologist Dr. Doreet Avni showing a frame from a hive. Photo by Abigail K. Leichman

Furthermore, the bees don’t like their hives opened. It disturbs them and lets in ambient heat or cold. They have to work for hours to restore homeostasis inside the hive.

“For almond groves in California, the rule of thumb is not to open hives if the outside temperature is below 16 degrees Celsius [60.8F]. With our sensors, beekeepers open only those hives there are concerns about,” said Avni.

On that hot day, the bees were venturing out of the hive only to bring back water.

Avni said BeeHero isn’t the first company to attempt replacing manual inspections with sensors but the others used sensors that were too large, too disruptive or too expensive.

This is why BeeHero has become the world’s largest pollination services company. The New York Times gave BeeHero a 2022 Good Tech Award, and this year CNBC named the company to its Disruptor 50 list.

Buzz-iness model

BeeHero has raised a total of $64 million, employs 65, and is now facilitating 10 million hive samples daily.

The company’s clients are mainly in the United States and Australia. A clientele is building up in Europe and Africa. In Israel, BeeHero is used in apiaries such as Kanot. Sales and operations are in California; R&D in Tel Aviv.

A beekeeper checking a hive monitored with BeeHero’s sensor. Photo courtesy of BeeHero

Schwartz explains that beekeepers get the sensor technology for free.

“Our money comes from growers, for whom we broker the hives. If you need 10,000 hives and you’ve been ordering them from an apiary on the other side of the United States or Australia, by the time you receive them you might be receiving empty or half-empty boxes that cannot provide the pollination you need,” he said.

“You also don’t know where to place the hives, taking into account field conditions and crop density and variety. When you order from us, we give you the exact number of bees you need, and we tell you precisely where to place the hives, maximizing the bees’ ability to pollinate the crops.”

BeeHero’s “Precision Pollination as a Service” technology also lets growers check if the bees are actually pollinating the flowers.

Schwartz adds that “by creating better hives with more bees, you reduce the number of hives that have to transported from place to place. You get better pollination with fewer boxes. We reduce carbon emissions in this way.”

Sweet ending

Our tour of Kanot Apiary ended in the honey extraction shed, where workers uncap each frame and place it in a spinner so the honey flows into a collection pan and is piped to a different room to be jarred.

While pollen provides protein for the bees, nectar provides energy. They preserve nectar by turning it into honey – similar to humans canning vegetables for future use.

Avni told ISRAEL21c that in a commercial apiary, bees don’t need as much honey as they produce from the nectar they collect. Some apiaries leave half the honey in the frames and others extract it all. Either way, the bees are compensated by the addition of sugar syrup to make sure they have energy to continue the colony.

Honey being extracted from hives at Kanot Apiary. Photo by Abigail K. Leichman

Reps from 10 startups spend four days meeting with British executives, investors and policymakers in collaborative events and discussions.

A delegation of climate-tech innovators from Israel enjoyed a morning welcome reception at the British House of Lords, opening a groundbreaking event hosted by Lord Ian Austin from June 26-29.

The UK-Israel Climate First Delegation was organized by Israeli climate-tech accelerator Climate First with the UK-Israel Business Bilateral Chamber of Commerce, which has fostered growth and investment between the UK and Israel since 1950.

Representatives were from Helios (large-scale carbon capture), Hydro X (hydrogen storage and transport), Criaterra (sustainable building materials), Daika (natural materials from wood waste), Gigaton Carbon (ocean-based CO2 removal and storage), Momentick (monitoring greenhouse gas emissions), QD-SOL (green hydrogen), Zohar CleanTech (decentralized waste disposal systems), Luminescent (isothermal heat engine) and NakAI (maritime cleaning and inspection robots).

“Our mission at Climate First is to empower companies that can help us meet our net-zero goals,” said Nadav Steinmetz, cofounder and managing partner of Climate First.

“Through this UK-Israel delegation, we are furthering that mission by bridging the gap between innovative Israeli companies and the UK’s vast network of investors, policymakers and business leaders. Together, we can unlock potential and accelerate the global transition towards a climate-resilient future.”

During their visit, the delegates interacted with British executives, investors and policymakers in collaborative events and discussions. Meetings were scheduled with Lord Browne, founder and chairman of BeyondNetZero; Generation Investment Management Just Climate Fund; Barclays Sustainable Impact Capital; J.P. Morgan ClimateTech; BlackRock Decarbonisation Partners; the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD); and representatives from Prince William’s Earthshot Prize.

Prof. Gideon Grader awarded the Institut de France prize for developing the E-TAC process that enables splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen.

Prof. Gideon Grader from Israel’s Technion-Israel Institute of Technology was recently awarded the Grand Prix Scientifique research grant by the Institut de France for developing innovative green hydrogen technology.

The Institut de France, a nonprofit organization founded in 1795 that unites five French academies, encourages research, supports creativity, and funds many humanitarian projects.

Grader has developed a process — dubbed E-TAC — along with his Technion colleagues, which splits water into hydrogen and oxygen by decoupling the production of the two gasses. This is achieved by circulating electrolyte solutions at different temperatures through the electrodes.

The professor later developed unique electrodes that move continuously between the separated sites where the hydrogen and oxygen are produced simultaneously, allowing for the E-TAC process to be continuous and not an isolated action.

The scientists say the method will enable long-term operation at a low cost and easier scaleup to industrial level.

In 2019, green hydrogen company H2Pro was founded using the E-TAC technology. The 100-strong company has since raised over $100 million from venture capital funds, including Bill Gates’ BEV fund, TEMASEK, and Horizon Ventures. H2Pro was recently selected by BloombergNEF as one of the most promising companies for solving the climate change crisis.

Israeli food-tech startup More Foods has announced a new partnership with Tivall, a vegetarian frozen food brand owned by food giant Osem-Nestlé. 

More Foods makes high-protein, high-fiber meat alternatives from pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Its products are served in over 100 Israeli restaurants as well as restaurants in the UK and France. 

The startup says its high-protein product uses the seeds in a way that allows for textures and flavors that are not usually found in meat substitutes, mimicking the variety available for meat eaters. 

The collaboration with Tivall, which is based on Kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta’ot in northern Israel, will allow More Foods to expand its distribution to meet the growing demand for clean, plant-based products. 

This partnership marks Tivall’s first time working with a food-tech startup. 

“We are proud to partner with the Osem-Nestlé Group and combine our unique product offering with their market accessibility,” said Leonardo Marcovitz, founder of More Foods.

“This collaboration represents an important milestone in our journey to broaden our market presence, reach a larger customer base, and further our mission to make nutritious meaty center-plate plant-based products more accessible to consumers worldwide,” he said. 

More Foods was founded in 2019 and is headquartered in Tel Aviv. 

The daily commute for many Israelis means long hours by bus or car, navigating a gridlocked central Israel – the heart of the country’s business sector. 

Israel’s traffic jams are notorious. In 2021, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said that the country’s transportation infrastructure was in worse shape than most of its other members – and singled out the congestion on the roads as being especially egregious. 

But Israel – with its strong tech ecosystem and ethos of innovation – has devised a futuristic solution to dodge traffic jams by sending people and parcels to their destination through the air in unmanned aerial vehicles (also known as UAVs or drones).

Dronery’s UAV is designed to carry people through the air for distances of up to 30km (Mark Nomdar)

And this month, that solution moved even closer to reality, with the Israel National Drone Initiative (INDI) testing drones that can carry both passengers and goods.  

INDI has been in development for the past four years, bringing together a variety of government bodies, including the Ministry of Transport, the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA) and the Civil Aviation Authority of Israel (CAAI). 

The IIA says the drone initiative is preparing the groundwork for the regular use of these unmanned flying vehicles in Israel, building the technology, regulation and infrastructure ahead of their introduction. 

The aim, it says, is not only to alleviate the human and environmental pressure on Israel’s roads, but also offer more efficient services and give the country’s high-tech sector a competitive edge on the global stage. 

Israel has invested 60 million shekels (approx. $16.5 million) in the project so far. 

This month’s tests involved 11 companies working in drone operation, including two whose aircraft are intended to transport people. 

The companies carried out trial missions at multiple locations across the country. And Daniella Partem, who heads Israel’s drone project as part of her leadership role at the IIA, says her team was pleasantly surprised at how swiftly they were making progress. 

The tests included groundbreaking autonomous flights by a pair of Israeli companies whose eVTOL (Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing) craft can carry two people at a time. 

“We thought it would take longer to fly the eVTOLs in Israel,” Partem tells NoCamels, explaining that no other country is working in such an accelerated way in this field. 

“Our main objective is to have this competitive, safe ecosystem operating in Israel, and as opposed to other countries, we’re very focused and have a managing aerial system.”

The two companies planning to carry passengers are Dronery, whose Chinese-made, Israeli-adapted craft can carry 220 kg in cargo and fly as far as 30 km, and AIR, whose homegrown AIR ONE craft can carry up to 250 kg and for a far greater distance of 160 km. 

Their test flights involved taking off and landing in urban areas and the transportation of heavy cargo. Both sets of tests were conducted successfully using mannikins. 

Dronery tests its UAV designed to carry people from one location to another (Courtesy)

The government says that the test flights will continue around the country for the next two years, with the aircraft flying long distances of up to 150 km while increasing the weight of their payload in order to prepare for passengers.  

For Partem, this is just the beginning of a transportation revolution that could even see drones helping in life or death situations, such as delivering rare medications or ferrying patients between hospitals in emergencies. And the program is advancing satisfactorily. 

“We’ve managed to move forward pretty quickly into creating this new ecosystem  for drones and eVTOLs. And this is a very important milestone for us and the project; we’ve done over 19,000 sorties, in different places in Israel – up north, down south, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem,” she tells NoCamels. 

“We believe that this whole technology is something that can really help solve urgent problems such as traffic and such as air pollution, and help us move things from place to place in a more efficient and safe way,” Partem says.

Safe Skies  

With an active air force due to Israel’s security situation, the use of drones in the country’s heavily defended airspace inevitably involves some close coordination with the military. 

The technology to manage the airspace and the “corridors” (think roads in the sky) that the aircraft will be using is currently being developed, Partem says. 

Israel has tasked two companies with managing the airspace and, according to Partem, both will be employing the Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management (UTM) devised by the United States.  

Unlike in other countries, in Israel the airspace management will be overseen by the government, but the actual operation of the drones will be open to many companies, creating what Partem calls a “competitive ecosystem.” 

Each company will have to register with the authorities and limit themselves to a predetermined route but will ultimately be responsible for their own craft and their contents. The UTM, Partem says, “only helps them fly together in one space.” 

Partem is confident in the software and the hardware that comprises the safety measures in place for all bodies and interested parties, and cites an example of these security steps in action. 

“We had a helicopter flying into the airspace where the drones are flying. And you could see how the drones made their way around the helicopter. We can really see that we can have a safe environment,” she says.

Three researchers have been awarded top honors in the EuroTech Future Award, beating out 34 other participants. The jury evaluated the impact of the candidates’ work on achieving global sustainability goals, the excellence of their research, and their ability to effectively communicate their research to non-experts, including policymakers and citizens.

Anders Bjarklev, President of the Technical University of Denmark and President of the EuroTech Universities Alliance, emphasized the importance of the research community in addressing the challenges faced by Europe and global society. He highlighted the passion, pursuit of knowledge, and innovative spirit of the talented young researchers from the six universities involved in the EuroTech Future Award.

The third prize was awarded to Dinesh Krishnamoorthy, an assistant professor at Eindhoven University of Technology. His research focuses on applying artificial intelligence in medical research, specifically in personalized insulin dosing for diabetes care. Krishnamoorthy’s work aims to develop AI algorithms that can automatically determine the optimal insulin dosage for individual patients, making diabetes management more affordable and accessible.

The first prize went to Charlotte Vogt, an assistant professor at the Israeli Technion. Vogt’s research centers around carbon dioxide hydrogenation catalysis. She believes that catalysts play a crucial role in addressing global warming by converting CO2 into useful materials or fuels. Vogt’s work focuses on developing new and improved catalysts through spectroscopic experiments to enhance the efficiency of CO2 conversion processes.

The second prize was awarded to Zongyao Zhou, a postdoctoral scientist at EPFL in Switzerland. Zhou’s research focuses on membrane-based technologies for wastewater recovery and the exploitation of green energy. He has developed a microporous polymer membrane that can effectively remove antibiotics and heavy metal ions from drinking water and extract lithium ions from seawater. Zhou’s research aligns with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, particularly in promoting clean water and sanitation and affordable and clean energy.

The EuroTech Universities Alliance, a strategic partnership of leading European science and technology universities, aims to build a strong, sustainable, sovereign, and resilient Europe. The alliance’s partners contribute their excellence in research and education and actively engage in vibrant ecosystems and service to society. Together, they collaborate to accelerate research in high-tech focus areas and advocate for change, with a strong presence in Brussels.

The EuroTech Future Award recognizes the outstanding contributions of young researchers from the EuroTech Universities Alliance in securing a sustainable future. The winners’ research demonstrates their commitment to addressing global challenges and making a positive impact on society. 

How can personalized and more effective treatment for insulin requirements be achieved through N’s accurate predictions?

N accurately predict insulin requirements for individual patients, leading to personalized and more effective treatment.

The second prize went to Lavinia Heisenberg, a PhD candidate at the Technical University of Munich. Heisenberg’s research revolves around the development of sustainable materials for construction. She is working on creating bio-based composites that can replace traditional, resource-intensive materials like concrete and steel, thus reducing environmental impact without compromising structural integrity.

The first prize was awarded to Jean-Paul Moreau, a postdoctoral researcher at École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. Moreau’s research focuses on the development of sustainable energy storage solutions. He has been working on a new type of flow battery that uses abundant and non-toxic materials to store renewable energy. This technology has the potential to revolutionize the energy storage sector and facilitate the widespread adoption of renewable energy sources.

The EuroTech Future Award recognizes the importance of research in driving sustainable development and addressing global challenges. Through their innovative work, these young researchers have shown their commitment to finding solutions that can have a real impact on society. Their ability to effectively communicate their research to policymakers and citizens is also crucial in ensuring that their findings are translated into practical applications and policies.

The EuroTech Universities Alliance, consisting of six leading technical universities in Europe, plays a vital role in fostering collaboration and knowledge exchange among researchers. The EuroTech Future Award is just one example of how the alliance supports and recognizes outstanding research that contributes to a sustainable future.

With the recognition and support provided by the EuroTech Future Award, these three researchers have an even greater opportunity to further develop their work and make a meaningful contribution to achieving global sustainability goals. Their dedication and expertise serve as an inspiration to the research community and demonstrate the potential of science and technology in shaping a better future for all.

In a 1931 essay, Winston Churchill wrote about how he sees the future of food production: “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium,” he wrote.

Fast forward some 90 years, and Churchill’s prediction is coming true, thanks in part to Israeli food-tech company Aleph Farms, which has developed a unique method to cultivate steak meat from isolated cow cells.

First to develop cultured steak

“We’re the first company that has managed to develop cultured steak. Not ground beef or nuggets — an actual steak,” says Aleph Farms’ Senior Manager of Marketing Communication Yoav Peer. 

Aleph Farms’ steak developed from cow cells. Photo by Yulia Karra

The company’s primary vision is not dissimilar to that of Churchill — to advance food security through the ability to produce meat independent of climate change and dwindling natural resources. 

The company grows only the edible parts of cows, using stem cells to generate meat. The focus is solely on beef for now, because of the taxing environmental impact of cattle-raising and because beef is considered the highest quality type of meat. 

The Rehovot-based startup, established in 2017, now boasts 150 employees, the majority of whom work in R&D. 

And it shows. In Aleph Farms’ offices, biologists and biochemists pop from room to room in white coats, giving a sense that you are inside one giant medical lab.

“Aleph Farms was established as an initiative of Strauss Group [one of the largest food manufacturers in Israel] and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, with the cooperation of private investors and the government,” Peer tells ISRAEL21c.

Cultured steaks in supermarkets by 2026

Aleph Farms has been generating quite a buzz recently. It became the first to cultivate beef in space in 2019, and even boasts Hollywood star and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio as one of its investors. 

Aleph Farms’ Talent Acquisition Manager & Human Resources Business Partner Orit Berman with Israeli Arabs participating in the company’s social action program. Photo courtesy of Aleph Farms

The company is also part of a social-action campaign that works to integrate Israeli Arabs into the country’s high-tech sector. 

The actual product is expected to hit the market by the end of this year, starting with select restaurants once Aleph Farms receives regulatory approvals from Israeli Health Ministry and Singapore’s Health Agency. 

Why those two countries?

“Israel and Singapore share a lot of challenges related to food security,” says Peer.

“They don’t have enough resources to feed the local population, so they’re looking at cultivated meat that could be produced anywhere without taking up land and water needed for cattle.”

In the initial stages, Aleph Farms will produce roughly 10 tons of cultured steak per year, and in the future establish additional production facilities. “The goal is to get to supermarkets by 2026,” Peer says.

One of the biggest challenges is to produce at a reasonable cost. 

“It requires innovation in production to make the process more efficient. So, in the beginning it is going to be priced similarly to premium beef. But we hope to reduce the cost within a few years from our launch, until we reach price parity with the broader beef market,” says Peer.

From a fertilized egg to a steak

The first batch of cells the company worked with came from a fertilized egg of a cow named Lucy from California. Lucy apparently was extremely fertile and genetically superior compared to “average” cows. 

“Lucy has children all around the world,” Peer says. He adds that picking a donor is extremely important in order not to end up with “a full tank of problematic cells” from which the meat would be cultivated. 

But how does a fertilized egg from a living cow end up as a beefsteak? To answer that question, we turn to Director of Differentiation at Aleph Farms Natali Molotski.

Director of Differentiation at Aleph Farms Natali Molotski. Photo by Yulia Karra

“To undergo that process, cells need to take on specialized roles, not just multiply. We start working with cells when they are pluripotent,” she says. 

Most of us know pluripotent cells by their “mainstream” name — stem cells. Stem cells can become any type of cell, under the right guidance. 

“You take an embryonic cell and guide it to be whatever you want — muscle, connective tissue or fat cells. Getting the cells to differentiate in the right way is what my team focuses on,” Molotski tells ISRAEL21c. 

“We know how this process happens in the cow’s body, but it takes nine months or so. We need to replicate that process in a few days to reduce production cost. We had to learn to mimic the natural process of cell development, while dealing with regulatory constraints because at the end of the day people are going to eat it. It’s a huge challenge.”

Slaughter-free

The trickiest aspect in the development of cultured meat is recreating the texture, such as tissue and blood vessels. “You need to feed the cells the right food in order for them to have the same taste as animal meat.”

The cells are fed an “animal cell culture media” developed exclusively by Aleph Farms — and it is, well, also cultured. 

“The common media consists of serum that is derived from cows. So we developed unique media at this company that is without serum, and later we got rid of all animal components [in cell food],” says Molotski.

“When you work in tissue culture with cells, you don’t even think about it. But when you’re producing it for cultured meat, you can’t feed the cells something that comes — although indirectly — from animal slaughter.”

Even with the most exclusive and expensive food, some cells will not grow up to be steaks. 

“We have a machine here that was used for PCR coronavirus tests,” says Molotski. “It helps us extract the DNA and see which cells are more suitable for muscle tissue, for example, and which will not make it to the next round of development.” 

Why not simply extract grown cells from a specific body part of an animal and cultivate the meat that way, saving time that it takes to grow a cell from scratch? 

“That would be quicker and cheaper,” she concedes. “But, these cells die very quickly. Our cells can be in use forever, so you don’t have to go each time and extract new ones. You also need to take into consideration the issue of genetic stability.”

Although the company now is hyper focused on cultured meat, Aleph Farms’ ultimate vision is lab cultivation of all animal products “from leather to collagen,” adds Peer. 

atalysts spur the world’s economy, but they still hold many mysteries. “One-third of global gross domestic product relies on catalysts, and yet do we really understand how they operate under working conditions? Absolutely not,” says Charlotte Vogt, an assistant professor of chemistry at the Technion—Israel Institute of Technology.

Vogt is determined to fill that knowledge gap. Her research reveals the inner workings of catalysts that could tackle climate change by decarbonizing our energy systems and industrial processes, and she’s driven by the urgency of the challenge. “We have to come up with new catalytic systems at record speed, and how are we going to do that if we don’t really understand them?” she says.

Most of the common reactions in the chemical industry involve passing gases or liquids over solid catalysts at high temperatures or pressures. To improve the performance of these heterogeneous catalysts, chemists try to understand the mechanism of the reaction going on at the catalyst’s surface. Traditionally, this approach has involved using spectroscopic and other techniques to study simplified versions of the reaction systems—perhaps focusing on a single facet of a catalyst crystal at extremely low pressure so that just a few reactant molecules adhere to its surface.

Despite the insights they have provided, these model systems are completely different from the conditions of industrial reactions and can give a misleading or incomplete view of how the catalyst works. So Vogt instead studies catalysts in their real-world operating environments, known as operando in chemical parlance, and in real time, which poses enormous experimental challenges.

A catalyst particle can have many different reaction sites that change during the reaction. And the catalyst is surrounded by a blizzard of reactant and product molecules, most of which are not undergoing the reaction in question at any given moment. “You’re sometimes looking for spectroscopic signals that are like a needle in a haystack,” Vogt says. “So we’re developing techniques to elucidate those tiny but important signals and distinguish them from everything that is not important.”

“We have to come up with new catalytic systems at record speed, and how are we going to do that if we don’t really understand them? ”

Charlotte Vogt, professor, Technion—Israel Institute of Technology

Her team studies catalysts using X-rays at synchrotron facilities, for example, or infrared spectrometers in Vogt’s lab. Then the researchers use machine learning and pattern recognition techniques to comb through the terabytes of data. They also design specialist reactors that can operate at realistic conditions while allowing spectroscopists to peer inside the heart of the reaction.

Vogt is applying these techniques to the reactions of small molecules, including carbon dioxide and ammonia, that have a huge global impact. In addition to studying conventional heterogeneous catalysts, she’s also interested in developing operando techniques to study electrocatalytic reactions that produce NH3 or convert CO2 into fuels and other useful products. Deployed at an industrial scale, these reactions could take advantage of the growing availability of renewable electricity.

In 2021, Vogt established her research group at the Technion, where she has joined the new Stewart and Lynda Resnick Sustainability Center for Catalysis. “She mixes a deep knowledge of science with a vision of how to apply it to real-world problems,” says Ilan Marek, the center’s director. “She was a perfect fit.”

Vogt has always understood the power of chemistry to change the world. Her father, Eelco Vogt, was the global R&D director for catalysts at chemical company Albemarle, “so I had a really good role model at home,” Charlotte Vogt says. After undergraduate and master’s degrees at Utrecht University, she stayed on for a PhD with Bert M. Weckhuysen, a leading proponent of operando spectroscopy. “She is very driven, she knows how to organize things, and she has a real passion for science,” Weckhuysen says.

Her PhD research included dissecting the Sabatier reaction, which typically uses a nickel catalyst to convert CO2 and hydrogen into methane and water. Improving the efficiency and selectivity of that process could offer a way to use industrial CO2 emissions as a raw material for storing renewable energy in chemical fuels. Vogt’s spectroscopy work revealed how the nickel catalyst particles’ size and structure affected the reaction and how metal oxide supports beneath the nickel particles influenced the products formed.

Weckhuysen and Eelco Vogt are old friends, so Charlotte Vogt was determined to forestall any suggestions of favoritism and worked hard to establish herself as an independent scientist. “In fact, during my PhD I didn’t talk to my dad about my science. Not one word,” she says.

Now that Vogt has her own lab, though, she’s happy to discuss the trials and tribulations of being an assistant professor with her father and has even collaborated on a paper with him. “He’s an amazing support system to have,” she says.

Aleph Farms, which a Technion professor co-founded, continues to break more records in this latest development

The first company to grow steaks directly from the cells of cows has now received the first halachic ruling regarding the kosher status of cultivated meat.

Chief Rabbi of Israel, David Lau, made the announcement yesterday (Wednesday, January 18th), following an examination of the production methods in the company’s laboratory and speaking with experts in the field.

Rabbi Lau noted, however, that if it is marketed as meat or is “similar to meat in taste and smell”, it should not be mixed or consumed with dairy products.

Co-founded by Technion Professor, Shulamit Levenberg, from the Biomedical Engineering Faculty at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and backed by Leonardo DiCaprio, Aleph Farms has – to date – raised $120 million in funding. It is awaiting marketing approval for its first product – Minute Steak – before it enters the market for the first time.

Other notable animal-free produce startups linked to the Technion include SavorEat, a company that produces 3D-printed burger patties via a robot chef using ingredient cartridges, SuperMeat, which takes cell cultures from chickens and Imagindairy, which develops real milk in the lab without harming animals.

Aleph Farms hopes to launch its Minute Steak in Israel this year, followed by other countries around the world next year.

Meanwhile, Professor Levenberg is working on a host of other exciting innovations, including genetically engineering muscle tissue to cure type-2 diabetes and treating spinal cord injury patients with exosome therapy, which contains three times the amount of growth factors of stem cells, is less invasive and doesn’t rely on human donors.