December 28, 2008, Updated September 12, 2012

Olivebar uses the waste left after olives are pressed to create rolls of fuel, which offer two and a half times more heat than traditional wood fires.

The olive branch, a symbol of peace since the time of Noah, is poised to become the harbinger of a new era in energy and ecological awareness, thanks to an effort that not only benefits the environment, and lowers heating bills, but also provides an important boost to a group of disadvantaged Israeli youth.

In the shadow of Herodion, a group of youngsters — many of whom were homeless until they were gathered together by a man named Yossi Sadeh, first in Beit Shemesh, then at the Sde Bar farm, a kibbutz-like framework that’s turned their lives around — are changing the face of energy production. Their work is to help create Olivebar’s rolls to heat homes in wood-burning stoves which general manager Eli Karniel describes as “ecologically perfect.”

The rolls are made from the waste produced after olives are pressed at Israeli olive presses, known in Hebrew as gefet. The material is rich in oil and superb for heating, but if left behind at the presses to seep into the soil, will destroy ground water and render the soil infertile. The simple act of collecting it is the product’s first ecological benefit.

But the huge piles of gefet trucked to the factory aren’t enough. While two Tel Aviv entrepreneurs patented the idea of using the material for the stoves, it was entrepreneur Avi Lerber who recognized the potential, bought the patent, and after experimenting with more than 100 substances, found the right one to allow the material to solidify. From there, he developed a method to make the resulting product into convenient rolls, which have many advantages over wood for heating purposes.

A totally green product

Chief among them is the energy component, with a cube of the Olivebar rolls producing almost 2.5 times energy as a cube of wood. No mice or worms come with the rolls, which are aesthetically wrapped in paper that is recyclable and can be used to light the oven. The smoke released has no negative impact on neighbors or the environment, and the ash left in the stove can be used for fertilizing gardens and plants. Using the rolls will also fit into recent moves both here and abroad to avoid cutting down trees for energy use. “It’s a totally green product, all natural, without any glues or chemicals,” Karniel tells ISRAEL21c.

“Whereas once it was more economical to buy heating oil, today people are looking for all kinds of alternatives,” Karniel explains. “People went over to wood, but now governments don’t want people to cut down forests, so they’re turning to natural alternatives like ours.”

Once the material is mixed, it’s pressed into rolls at the factory, then taken out to the warm climate of the area around Herodion, southeast of Jerusalem, where it’s easily dried before being packed for shipping. Lerber has registered the patent both in the Middle East and the US.

Karniel is particularly proud of the project’s Biblical roots, with the idea of heating with olive waste mentioned in the Talmud. “We’re going forward to our sources, instead of backwards,” he notes. “It’s a great feeling; you can really feel these ancient writings come alive.” Arabs and Bedouin were also known to make use of the olive waste for heating.

On a mission

“We definitely see this as a kind of mission,” he says of the company, which is jointly owned by Lerber, Sde Bar and Kav Project engineering company. For now the company is focusing on Israel’s periphery as well as countries in the Mediterranean basin.

The product is also most effective in one or two-story homes that can best make use of wood-burning stoves

The piles of drying rolls look a bit odd on the semi-desert landscape, but the boys of Sde Bar love working there, aware that the stuff is at the cutting edge of an energy revolution, Karniel explains. “They’re proud to work in the factory because it helps support their activities, and they definitely compete for the chance to work there,” says Karniel

“It’s also important to note that the olive tree, which is one of the seven species of the Land of Israel, is what’s leading this progress, even in the field of ecology,” he says. “It definitely spurs us on, and we see a great deal of importance in the fact that, thanks to us, we are contributing to our environment both here and around the world.”

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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