The Sahara Forest Project is designed to utilise what we have enough of and to produce what we need, using deserts, sunlight, saltwater and CO2. Joakim Hauge, CEO of The Sahara Forest Project, introduces The Sahara Forest Project and explains how important the concept is to Qatar and the desert areas around the world.
The world is facing critical challenges in providing enough sustainably produced food, water and energy for a world population excepted to reach 9 billion in 2050. These challenges also represent a huge market potential for companies investing in solutions that set out to address these challenges. The Sahara Forest Project has embarked on the quest to provide environmental answers that not only address the challenges individually, but rather develop solutions that address multiple challenges simultaneously.
What’s the concept?
The uniqueness of the concept lies in bringing out the potential that exist in the synergies between technologies across industry sectors. The Sahara Forest Project does this by combining already existing and proven environmental technologies, such as solar power technologies, saltwater cooled greenhouses and technologies for establishing vegetation in arid areas. A key pillar of this project is that the company’s activities shall be good for the environment, good for social development and provide long term economic benefits to the investors. This is the company’s triple bottom line approach. As such, The Sahara Forest Project bases its work on close cooperation with businesses, academia and civil society in the countries where it operates. The cooperation ranges from scientific and social cooperation with universities, think tanks and NGOs to joint ventures with commercial companies.
The Sahara Forest Project has three core technological components:
- Saltwater-cooled greenhouses – greenhouses that uses saltwater to provide suitable growing conditions that enable year-round cultivation of high-value vegetable crops even in desert conditions. By using seawater to provide evaporative cooling and humidification, the crops’ water requirements are minimised and yields maximised with a minimal carbon footprint.
- Concentrated solar power for electricity and heat generation – using mirrors to concentrate the sun’s energy to produce heat that is used to make steam to drive a steam turbine, which in turn drives a generator to produce electricity.
- Technologies for desert revegetation – a collection of practices and technologies for establishing outside vegetation in arid environments, such as evaporative hedges.
By establishing a commercially viable way to bring saltwater into the desert, the project works as an enabling technology, creating opportunities for a wide range of businesses to develop alongside it. These include salt extraction, traditional desalination, algae production, halophyte cultivation, PV, mariculture, bioenergy and more.
The project has established proven track record of developing internationally recognised and ground breaking ideas and putting them into effect on the ground. Based on this experience we have set a pretty ambitious target. We want to enable a Restorative Growth: re-vegetation and creation of green jobs through profitable production of food, freshwater, biofuels and electricity.
We are aiming for a triple bottom-line.
Waste products as resources
With nature as an inspiration we have designed an integrated technological system where the waste product from one technology is used as resource for another. The synergies arising from integrating the technologies improve the performance and economics of the system compared to those of the individual components. For instance:
The Concentrated Solar Power facility will deliver considerable amounts of surplus heat to be used for evaporation of additional seawater. It will also provide power for electrical installations in the greenhouse, while the majority of the power can be exported from the facility.
The Concentrated Solar Power facility will benefit because the greenhouses and hedges can provide efficient water-cooling with seawater. This means that freshwater is not wasted and that construction of cooling towers is avoided. The new vegetation stabilises the soil and reduces dust so that more focused light reaches the mirrors.
The outside vegetation will benefit from greenhouses and saltwater infrastructure as they create a more humid and favourable environment for the plants.
However, the technologies are only part of the equation.
Sahara Forest Project facilities will only be truly successful if well integrated with local communities providing opportunities for jobs, produce and knowledge transfer.
The combination of Sahara Forest Project’s aim for a triple bottom line and the project’s technical concept has gained considerable attention and support since the first launch of the concept at The UN Climate Summit in 2009 (COP 15 in Copenhagen). Three years later, Sahara Forest Project attended the COP 18 in Doha and presented the Qatar Pilot Plant to the delegates.
First step in Qatar
In cooperation with the world leading fertilizer companies Yara International and Qafco, The Sahara Forest Project realised the first pilot facility on the ground in Qatar. After conducting extensive feasibility studies and field tests the agreement for the facility was signed at a ceremony in Oslo under the patronage of the Norwegian and Qatari Prime Ministers in February 2012.
The 10,000 square meters Sahara Forest Project Pilot Facility was opened in December 2012 by, at the time, H.H the Heir Apparent Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The pilot facility contains an integrated combination of environmental technologies, including seawater cooled greenhouses, Qatar’s first operational concentrated solar power plant, re-vegetation technologies and an integrated state of the art facility for cultivation of algae – the only of its kind in Qatar and the larger region. This was the first step in rolling out the project in Qatar to contribute to the country’s ambitions goals of becoming self-sufficient in food by using renewable energy sources.
More than two and a half years of studies, data modeling, tests and pilot operations has been conducted in Qatar. In 2013 we, in cooperation with Yara International and QAFCO, performed a comprehensive program at the facility in Qatar to optimise the synergies of the multipurpose technological set-up and to fine-tune the technologies to Qatari conditions.
The Sahara Forest Project brings together a number of various technologies into an integrated system. There is a rapid development in the maturity of these technologies and a growing appreciation in the global community that we need to look beyond traditional technological solutions for sustainably increasing food, water and energy security. For the seawater-cooled greenhouses in The Sahara Forest Project the development has been especially quick, going from concept drawings a few years back to producing high yields of cucumbers in Qatar.
Large scale ambitions
The concept has received widespread international attention and was described by the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations Development Programme as a “gold standard”.
The Sahara Forest Project has developed quickly from concept to reality and significant challenges have been overcome towards the successful implementation of the project. A key success factor has been the creative and dedicated team of world-leading experts that joined the project.
The biggest challenge has not been with any of the individual components, but in bringing all the technologies together in a well-integrated system were the waste-stream from one technology becomes a resource for another component. With this technical challenge there is also a challenge in bringing together people and innovation cultures from various fields of science and technology development.
Big ideas and promising technological solutions are a great starting-point. Our focus must be at optimising the technological system as a whole, rather than the individual components. That is challenging. To reach our ambition of large-scale deployment we therefore need to maintain a creative, yet targeted dialogue between the various fields of expertise to promote an innovation process firmly focused at creating synergies and increased efficiencies. We need to dear to embrace the crossing of boarders between technologies, but also between mindsets and cultures.
Interacting with Qatari expertise
Being in Qatar together with our very capable partners Yara and QAFCO, we have really enjoyed interacting with the considerable knowledge and forward-looking technological expertise present in the country.
Khalifa A. Al-Sowaidi, CEO of QAFCO, has stated that QAFCO and Yara have taken part in the pilot facility executed by Sahara Forest Project in a pilot scale to demonstrate the potential of the Green Technology in arid region like Qatar using seawater and solar energy for future larger scale research and commercial platform in the area of horticulture, freshwater generation, energy production, algae production. The pilot facility is expected pave way for commercialization of this green technology for large scale implementation with a vision to produce energy, food and fresh water not only for Qatar but for tomorrow’s world population in a sustainable way.
Ole Jorgen Haslestad, CEO of Yara International ASA, said that the project collaboration is a perfect fit to Yara’s agenda of developing sustainable solutions, creating value for us as a company as well as to society. We have to accept that businesses have to operate in a more sustainable way, and I believe innovative partnerships such as the one with Sahara Forest Project are vital to trigger this development. Innovation is essential to address the global challenges. The project creates a new approach to the combined issues of food, energy, fresh water and climate change.
Important to Qatar
The goals stated in Qatar’s National Vision of 2030, aim “to reduce the country’s economic dependency on hydro-carbon resources, develop environmental sustainability, and create a knowledge-based society”.
Sahara Forest Project offers commercial opportunities for renewable energy production and agricultural production in Qatar.
Current levels of Qatar’s domestic agricultural output satisfy no more than ten percent of total national food consumption needs. The Sahara Forest Project has offers demonstrated solutions to expand some of the domestic agriculture production to increase Qatar’s self- sufficiency.
The Sahara Forest Project also contributes to meet Qatar’s expressed wish for research and studies for best practices and optimal use of resources in the agricultural sector.
Project in Jordan
In Jordan The Sahara Forest Project was first presented to His Majesty King Abdullah II in 2010. In January 2011 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority and The Sahara Forest Project in Am¬man, Jordan. This agreement committed Sahara For¬est Project to conducting three comprehensive stud¬ies in Jordan financed and supported by Norwegian authorities. The MoU also includes that the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority will facilitate 20 ha for a Test and Demonstration Centre and 200 ha for possible later expansion.