After two and a half years of research and testing, the Sahara Forest Project pilot in Qatar has started to yield results, and initial findings are showing good results for arid land agriculture.
The pilot project, built on one hectare of land, produced 75 kg/m2 in three crops annually, which is competitive with those obtained in commercial farms in Europe. The project, however, uses seawater instead of freshwater. The greenhouse, where the plants are grown, uses seawater and blowing winds to create a cooling effect which allows the plants to grow even under the scorching summer heats of Qatar, explains a news story in Science. Pipes with cold seawater passing in them causes some air moisture to condense, which is the source of freshwater plants use.
The cold moisture coming out of the greenhouse also allowed plants to grow outside the greenhouse, and the operators were able to use “evaporative hedges” which brought temperature down by a further 10°C, which allowed desert plants to grow quicker than normal and throughout the whole year. The final component of the pilot is a concentrated solar power plant which provides energy to run the project and any surplus is used in desalination of saltwater for extra freshwater. The salt end product was collected in large pools, and researchers are trying to grow salt-tolerant algae that can be used as animal fodder or grown for bioenergy production in the pools formed.
“The remarkable results demonstrated on the ground reveal the potential for enabling restorative growth and value creation in arid land,” Joakim Hauge, CEO of the Sahara Forest Project, told reporters. According to Hauge, scaling the project to 60 hectares can cover all of Qatar’s current imports of cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, and egglants. The question is, however, is this commercially feasible? The reports don’t explain how much producing these food crops would cost.
The Sahara Forest Project will launch a new, 20 hectares pilot near Aqaba in Jordan to test the commercial feasibility of the project.