(Image Credit: Sahara Forest Project)
The term “food desert” is taking on new meaning in the arid Wadi Araba region of Jordan. A unique farm project in one of the world’s most challenging environments is using the arid land, saltwater, sun and CO2 to deliver food, fresh water, clean energy and, of course, salt.
It’s not a mirage. With its new facility about 15 kilometers from the Red Sea, the Sahara Forest Project is employing a modern twist on tried and true technologies to green one of the planet’s least fertile grounds.
The project features two greenhouses with over 14,000 square feet of growing space, more than 34,000 square feet of outdoor planting space, an outdoor vegetation zone and a solar power plant. Three key components are at play: saltwater-cooled greenhouses, desert revegetation technologies and solar power generation for heat and electricity.
In the greenhouses, seawater pumped via pipeline from the Persian Gulf is used to create ideal growing conditions for vegetable crops. Passing through a corrugated cardboard pad, the saltwater is evaporated in the greenhouse by the desert wind rather than by fan, cooling and humidifying the space. In addition, the water vapor that goes into the air from the seawater can be condensed back on the greenhouse roof as fresh water, which can then be used to irrigate the plants.
For the outdoor farm, evaporative hedges that provide shelter, cooling and humidification for crops make it possible to grow a wide range of edible plants. Its solar power facility uses thousands of mirrors to focus sunlight on a water boiler, heating it to generate steam that drives a turbine to produce energy.
A key ingredient lies in the materials that makes many of these innovations possible: petrochemicals. They’re the building blocks used to make the materials that go into the plant life-creating greenhouses, including the shatter-resistant polycarbonate panels (from propylene and benzene) in the greenhouse itself. The intense UV light is diffused with a special, woven polyethylene film (from ethylene). Water circulates along flexible PVC hoses (also from ethylene) and keeps the polyethylene (yep, ethylene again) grow bags fully hydrated.
All of these technologies on their own are not new. Working together all at once, they’re poised to change the world, one desert farm at a time. Until there’s an oasis at every desert corner.