In 2050 about 9.3 billion people will share our planet. Already today the world is facing the intertwined challenges of food, water and energy, security, coupled with climate change, desertification and shrinking forests.These challenges are closely interlinked and the same must be true for their answers. To borrow the words of Albert Einstein: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

And that exactly proposes the Sahara Forest Project.  And it is ready to use restorative practices to establish vegetation in arid areas and reverse the trend of desertification.This process of restorative growth will be catalyzed by combining already existing and proven environmental technologies, such as the evaporation of saltwater to create cooling and distilled fresh water (i.e. in a saltwatercooled greenhouse) and solar thermal energy technologies. The technological combination in The Sahara Forest Project is designed to utilize what we have enough of to produce what we need more of, using deserts, saltwater and CO2 to produce food, freshwater and energy. The Sahara Forest Project proposes to establish groups of  interconnected economic activities in different low lying desert areas around the world. The simple core of the concept is an infrastructure for bringing saltwater inland.

The saltwater is used to condition the desert air in a greenhouse to create ideal growing conditions for the crops inside. Evaporation of the saltwater at the greenhouse entrance cools and humidifies the dry desert air, creating conditions in the greenhouse that significantly reduce the irrigation requirements of the high value plants grown inside. Some of the water vapor in the greenhouse air will condense on cold surfaces, such as the roof, at night to contribute freshwater for irrigation of the crops. The saltwater will also be evaporated over outdoor evaporative structures, called “hedges”, to create external spaces with sheltered and humid conditions, aiding re-vegetation of the environment outside the greenhouses.

The saltwater-cooled greenhouse infrastructure is combined with Photovoltaic and/or Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) electricity generation facilities. CSP systems use mirrors to concentrate the energy from the sun to create very high temperatures, which produce superheated steam that can power a conventional steam turbine. Additionally, the waste heat from the CSP-facility will be used to evaporate yet more saltwater for distillation into freshwater, and to provide heating to the greenhouses during cold nights.

The Sahara Forest Project was initially established in 2009by the biomimicry architect Michael Pawlyn, structural engineer Bill Watts, and the Norwegian environmental group the Bellona Foundation. Jordan’s King Abdullah II officially came on board at the beginning of 2011 and last month The Sahara Forest Project AS signed a cooperation agreement with Yara International ASA and the Qatar Fertiliser Company, Qafco. The Pilot Plant will be built just outside Doha, Qatar. The estimated cost is $5.3 million. Qafco and Yara International will provide the funding.

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