Greening the Desert

10 December 2012

The Sahara Forest Project (SFP) Pilot Plant, a scheme to convert arid desert into fertile land using existing technology, has harvested its first test crop. The project is a multi-national collaboration between a number of designers and technologists, with engineering provided by the Practice.  From early feasibility studies to greenhouse cooling design, we have been central to the development of the project.

Bill Watts, a Senior Partner at Max Fordham and co-Founder of SFP, says the project represents a remarkable design and engineering achievement. The pilot scheme has gone from design to completion in ten months. “Pulling together cutting edge technologies from all over the world, getting the plant built on a highly security-sensitive industrial location in the desert, is a testament to the hard work and commitment of the entire project team,” Watts noted.

The use of greenhouses to grow crops in the desert is not new, but it is hugely costly in terms of energy and water consumption and capital and operating investment. The SFP pilot is ground-breaking because it grows food using sustainable levels of energy and water,  making use of solar energy and seawater.

The SFP pilot will test  the commercial viability and scaleability of cooling greenhouses with a configuration of three proven technologies; concentrated solar power, seawater greenhouses and evaporative hedges. It also provides a commercial research platform for two more experimental seawater technologies; algae and halophytes. The pilot is scheduled to run for 12 months. If successful it will become an expanded project with major implications for global food security and local employment. The ultimate goal is the production of food, energy and water using abundant local supplies of sunlight and seawater. 

The Sahara Forest Project Qatar Pilot Plant is a collaboration between Qafco, The Sahara Project AS and Yara International ASA.