Israeli water power that doesn’t give a dam

You don’t have to build dams to get hydroelectricity from water flowing through municipal pipes, says Dr. Daniel Farb, the Los Angeles immigrant who previously shook up the Israeli clean-tech power scene with his Leviathan Energy company’s award-winning Wind Tulip.

The ecologically conscious physician recently unveiled his latest brainchild, a turbine that turns excess pressure inside existing underground water pipes into energy for the electric grid.

The Negev-based Leviathan team is still fine-tuning the invention at its new testing site rented from Kibbutz Re’im. The Negev kibbutz’s Isralaser industry is fabricating many of the parts for the turbine, dubbed “Benkatina” in tribute to Second Temple High Priest Ben Katin, who made a machine to lower and raise the ancient Temple’s laver to and from the water table.

The modern version based on Farb’s vision was engineered by Avner Farkash, Leviathan’s vice president for research and development.


New, eco-friendly energy market

The Benkatina beta model already has been implemented in pilot areas by Israel’s national water carrier Mekorot as well as in the South Philippines. An Italian partner is lined up next, and Farb met recently with a power company in Mumbai that is interested in doing business.

He says that the invention is creating an international buzz because it opens a new energy market using existing infrastructure and even solves a problem in that infrastructure.

“Managers of water systems already know where there is excess pressure, and often they put pressure breakers in those locations to prevent leaks from forming. One of the great things about what we’re doing is that we are battling the water and energy shortage at the same time,” Farb said “An estimated $14 billion worth of water is wasted each year through leakage, and decreased pressure means decreased leaks.”

The company received a grant from the chief scientist of the Israeli Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor under the Eureka program to develop the technology, as well as a grant from the Ness Fund for business development in the Negev.

Farb is optimistic that thousands of potential installation sites in Israel could start adding several more megawatts of power to the seriously overtaxed electricity grid by next summer.

A smaller version of the Benkatina turbine could provide off-grid electricity in remote areas of the world in need of moderate amounts of power, as long as there are nearby water pipes. This would be more consistently reliable than either solar or wind energy, Farb said.

And if a proposed Dead Sea canal ever gets built, the Leviathan technology could play a role.

“I can foresee desalinated water coming from the Gulf of Eilat or from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea through pipes, and taking off some of the extra pressure in many points along the way to use for hydroelectricity,” Farb said.

Leviathan’s Benkatina turbine in use in the Philippines.

Radically different approach

The device is groundbreaking, according to Farb, because it is radically different from the way hydroelectric power has been accomplished for the last two centuries.

“In the past, they used a dam, used up all the pressure, worked in an environment of stable flow and used turbines that could be exposed to the air. In-pipe conditions are different, so there is no dam, which makes it more ecologically viable. Only the excess pressure is used so the integrity of the piping system can be maintained; the flow is variable; and it functions in a difficult, closed-system environment with splashing water,” he said.

The turbine would only be installed in parts of the piping known to have extra pressure. “We don’t want you to turn on the tap and have nothing come out,” Farb said.

He’s a firm believer in the need for a mix of wind, wave, water and solar energy alternatives.

“We’re in an energy crisis that will last at least 100 years, and we have to provide solutions in more than just one area,” he said. “Leviathan has provided a series of solutions that, when fully implemented with the right financial and bureaucratic support, can make a serious difference in the world we live in.”

Palestinian rappers infuse poetry with politics

“Our music is not about coexistence,” said Tamer Nafar, the self-assured leader of Palestinian hip-hop group DAM. “There’s a few steps that come before peace.”

Nafar, 27, addressed an audience of roughly 200 people during “Poetry of Peace,” a hip-hop and cultural jam benefit for the Levantine Cultural Center at USC’s Bovard Auditorium on Nov. 17.

You’re a democracy?
Actually it’s more like the Nazis!
Your countless raping of the Arab soul
Finally impregnated it
Gave birth to your child
His name: Suicide Bomber
And then you call him the terrorist?

Sheava Rahimi, 24, was blown away by DAM’s impassioned performance at USC. An American of Persian Muslim descent, Rahimi does not speak Arabic and therefore could not understand the words to any of DAM’s songs. Nevertheless, she said she could feel what they were saying.

“They were incredibly inspiring,” Rahimi said. “I’ve never seen such energy and … I can’t even think of the right word for it — drive.”

“Poetry of Peace” was the first time Rahimi had ever attended an event organized by the Levantine Cultural Center, which strives to promote cross-cultural dialogue and understanding among Middle Eastern cultures.

“There was a definite purpose to the show,” she said. “It rang with the message of peace. It left a strong impression on me.”

However, not everyone in the audience was pleased with the show’s perceived message. Jordan Elgrably, one of the founders of the Levantine Cultural Center and an active board member, said he received complaints from Persian Jewish attendees that the show was too political.

“The very nature of Palestinian culture is very political,” Elgrably said. “Anytime you deal with a minority culture — and the Palestinians are considered a minority in Israel — it will have a political feel. We’re scratching our heads over how we can do what we do and not offend too many people.”

A pan-cultural, inclusive approach is what the Levantine Center typically aims for, although a Jewish Israeli presence was markedly absent from the culture jam, which featured Lebanese, Syrian, Iranian and Palestinian performers.

“We definitely missed out on something by not having an Israeli performance,” said Elgrably, who comes from a Moroccan Jewish family.

He added, “Whenever DAM is invited to perform, it frequently happens that because they’re Palestinians, there is almost always an Israeli counterpart to balance them out. It’s as if they can’t stand on their own; they have to have an Israeli equivalent to legitimize them.”

Elgrably booked the group on the recommendation of Raya Meddine, a statuesque Lebanese American actress who served as the event’s spirited host.

In California for only two days, DAM had performed at Stanford and Chapman Universities before finishing off their tour in downtown Los Angeles.

Levantine Center board member Nile El-Wardani, who picked up the three rappers, their Jewish Israeli DJ and their French manager at LAX, said everyone was professional and polite. She added that the group was disappointed with the small crowd.

“They’re used to performing in front of huge audiences in Europe, and they asked me, ‘Why do you think people didn’t come?'” El-Wardani said. “I told them that it’s hard to put on any show that is Palestinian because people don’t understand what’s going on in Palestine.”