The main pillars on which the project rests are salt water greenhouses, concentrating solar power, and cultivation of traditional crops along with energy crops such as algae.
A novel combination of technologies that has the potential to turn large areas of desert green, producing commercial quantities of food and energy crops, fresh water, and electricity, looks set to have its first large-scale demonstration in Jordan. The governments of Jordan and Norway today inked an agreement to work with the Sahara Forest Project (SFP), an environmental technology group based in Norway, to build a 20-hectare demonstration center near Aqaba on the Red Sea, which would begin operation in 2015.
"It’s a holistic approach that could be of major interest to a large number of countries," says Petter Ølberg, Norway’s ambassador to Jordan. The key to the project is bringing seawater to the desert and evaporating it. The facility is based around a structure called a seawater greenhouse, which is akin to a giant solar still—evaporating seawater and condensing fresh water—but it also maintains a cool moist interior that is ideal for growing crops. The first commercial example of a seawater greenhouse, a 2000-square-meter unit in Port Augusta, Australia, harvested its first crop of tomatoes last month.
SFP combines this technology with a concentrated solar power plant. Unlike photovoltaic systems, which convert sunlight directly into electricity, concentrated solar power uses mirrors to focus light onto a heat collector, which then produces steam to drive a turbine generator. In an SFP facility, the solar plant can power the greenhouse and the greenhouse supply water to the power plant, making both more efficient.
Under today’s agreement, Jordan will provide the 20-hectare site and a corridor to pipe salt water from the Red Sea. Norway will provide $600,000 for three feasibility studies. Construction of the demonstration center will require private money.
The planned demonstration center devotes 4 hectares to greenhouses and 16 hectares to open-air crops, solar reflectors, and support buildings. "The aim is to test as many technologies and combinations of technologies as possible," says SFP chief Joakim Hauge. SFP aims to start building in 2012 and to begin operations in 2015.
"We have seen the signature on a very spectacular and potentially important project on renewable energy, where we try to pool our experience in some adventurous and entrepreneurial approaches to exploring the potential of this country and the solar potential of the middle eastern region. Starting in Jordan is really a promising starting point," Jonas Gahr Støre, Norway’s minister for foreign affairs said in Amman today.
A land use deal inked today in Jordan sets the scene for the unfolding of a daring project that may just yet turn Sahara into a green oasis. Bellona’s president Frederic Hauge, who has travelled to Jordan to take part in the signing, called the agreement “a giant step forward in our efforts to realise the Sahara Forest Project."
The Sahara Forest Project (SFP) took a huge step closer towards realisation with the signing of an agreement on the rights to develop a pilot Sahara Forest Project system on a plot of land in a coastal area in Jordan. In addition The Sahara Forest Project will conduct a number of studies in Jordan, with economical backing from Norwegian authorities.
The project, which envisages using a unique combination of technologies to turn arid desert areas into fertile lands, has been in development for several years.
The site that has finally been settled upon to build the project’s first test facility is a 200 000 square metre location in Aqaba, a coastal town in the far south of Jordan, some kilometres from the shore of the Red Sea. SFP has also secured rights to an area of additional 2 000 000 square metre for later expansion.
Last June, Jordan’s King Abdullah II saw a project presentation during a visit to Oslo and was left impressed by its possibilities, saying he was ready to facilitate its implementation in Jordan.
The contract signed today with Aqaba regional authorities became the result of a series of positive meetings between the Sahara Forest Project participants – including Bellona, which is a partner in the project – and a number of Jordanian ministers.
Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh and Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre were present at the ceremony to confirm Jordan’s and Norway’s support for the agreement.
“We have seen the signature on a very spectacular and potentially important project on renewable energy, where we try to pool our experience in some adventurous and entrepreneurial approaches to exploring the potential of this country and the solar potential of the middle eastern region. Starting in Jordan is really a promising starting point,” Jonas Gahr Støre in a statement today.
“We are very happy for the support of Jordanian and Norwegian governments. It is encouraging that we share the same vision of a more integral approach to solving challenges in the food, water and energy sector,” said Bellona’s Hauge.
The partners behind the Sahara Forest Project are Bill Watts of Max Fordham Consulting Engineers, Seawater Greenhouse, Exploration Architecture and the Bellona Foundation.
In 2009, after first studies showed that the concept was feasible and economically viable, the project was presented internationally at the December 2009 UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark. The innovative approach was a sensation at the conference and was very well received by the participants.
“The Sahara Forest Project appears to be a very interesting example of the holistic thinking we need a lot of in the future, to make our systems for energy, water and industry more sustainable,” the EU development commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, said at the time.
Less CO2, more clean energy
The main pillars on which the project rests are salt water greenhouses, concentrated solar energy, and cultivation of traditional crops along with energy crops such as algae. The end result? Fresh water, food, and sustainable biomass and energy.
“We will use what we have enough of to produce what we need more of,” Hauge said of the project.
As a nice side benefit, the barren desert outside will be supplied with enough moisture to become, over time, a green valley blooming with vegetation. Even better: Algae, vegetables, and other plants will play an additional role, absorbing carbon dioxide from the air.
“The Sahara Forest Project has attracted international attention, and it has shown a remarkable progress since it was first presented,” said Hauge. “I am sure that a