Way back in 2008, we reported on a proposal for the Sahara Forest Project, an incredible sustainable solution to resource scarcity that would turn the Sahara Desert into a source for food, water, and energy. If you thought the idea was too good to be true, think again. Norway and Jordan recently signed an agreement to allow for the development of a pilot Sahara Forest Project system on a plot of land in a coastal area in Jordan. The group will also conduct a number of studies in Jordan, with financial backing from Norwegian authorities.
The chosen test site is a 200,000 square meter plot in Aqaba, a coastal town in the far south of Jordan, close to the shore of the Red Sea. The agreement also secured an additional 2 million square meters for later expansion. The Sahara Forest Project combines Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) and Seawater Greenhouses to provide a huge amount of renewable energy and sustainable agricultural solutions, essentially turning one of the world’s most inhospitable environments into a flourishing oasis.
Seawater Greenhouses use solar power to convert salt water into fresh water, which is then used to grow fresh vegetables and algae (to absorb CO2). CSP provides the energy to power the whole operation. CSP uses thousands of mirrors to direct sunlight upon a water boiler, heating it to over 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. The boiler produces steam, which moves a turbine to create energy.
The Sahara Forest Project was created by biomimicry architect Michael Pawlyn, Seawater Greenhouse designer Charlie Paton, and structural engineer Bill Watts. In 2009, the trio joined forces with Bellona, an international environmental NGO based in Norway, and presented their proposal at COP15 in December 2009. The positive feedback led to more presentations, including one in Oslo last June, attended by Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan. The King was so impressed with the project that he invited the SFP team to Jordan in October to discuss a feasibility study, opening the door for the recent agreement.
The SFP team will conduct comprehensive studies this year and develop a demonstration center in 2012. Commercial development is likely to start in 2015. According to the team, facilities like the one in Aqaba have the potential for huge environmental benefits. They can alleviate food and water shortage, produce biofuels without competing with food production, and contribute to forestation efforts in desert lands. Plus, the vegetation production will absorb carbon dioxide and drive down CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.
While setbacks and complications are sure to arise, it’s thrilling to see such a large-scale, incredibly innovative project get off to a fast start.
Images © Sahara Forest Project