Sunday, January 30, 2011

Green machine: Bringing a forest to the desert

It may sound like an environmentalist's pipe dream, but giant greenhouses could soon be popping up in some of the world's deserts, producing fresh drinking water, food and fuel.

The Sahara Forest Project, which aims to create green oases in desert areas, has signed a deal to build a pilot plant in Aqaba, near the Red Sea in Jordan. With funding from the Norwegian government, the team plans to begin building the pilot plant on a 200,000 square metre site in 2012.

The world has an abundance of sunlight, seawater, carbon dioxide and arid land, says Joakim Hauge, CEO of the Sahara Forest Project. "These resources could be used for profitable and sustainable production of food, water and renewable energy, while combating the greenhouse effect through binding CO2 in new vegetation in arid areas."

If all goes to plan, the plant will consist of a saltwater greenhouse to grow vegetables and algae for fuel. Water piped from the Red Sea will cool air flowing into the greenhouse, providing good growing conditions for the crops. The air will then be passed over pipes containing seawater heated by the sun. The resulting hot, humid air will finally meet a series of vertical pipes containing cold seawater, causing fresh water to condense and run down the pipes to collectors below.

This fresh water will be heated by a Concentrating Solar Power Plant to provide steam to drive a turbine, generating electricity. In turn, the electricity will be used to power the greenhouse's pumps and fans. The water will also be used to grow crops around the greenhouse.

Finally, excess heat generated by the solar power plant will be used to produce drinking water through desalination.

The project has been developed by Max Fordham Consulting Engineers, Seawater Greenhouse, and Exploration Architecture, all based in London, and the Bellona Foundation in Oslo, Norway.

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