A team of researchers have achieved something that seems to be detached from the most fanciful science-fiction works: they have developed a method that allows the production of an unlimited amount of food in the desert, with the help of the Sun’s rays and sea water.
A group of scientists from Europe, Asia and North America, led by a 33-year-old former banker, has set up sundrop farms in a desert area of Australia. Taking advantage of the low price of the land in the desert, where the only available resource is the sun, Sundrop Farms has acquired a large portion and initiated an experimental project that promises to solve the food problems of mankind.
Sundrop Farms specialists have achieved something that seems impossible: using the sun to desalinate seawater, which they use for irrigation and to heat and cool greenhouses (as needed), scientists have been able to produce tons of high-quality, pesticide-free vegetables throughout the year.So far, the company has been able to produce tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers in commercial quantities, and the same technology can be used for many other crops. The big advantage is that Sundrop Farms technology does not consume fresh water at all and requires very few fossil fuels. Seawater and solar energy are freely available in (almost) unlimited quantities. The project inaugurated 18 months ago worked so well that many investors and representatives of supermarket chains travelled to Port Augusta, Australia, to see for themselves the success of Sundrop Farms. Now, the company plans to build a new greenhouse worth £8 million, which is set to span 8 hectares – 40 times the size of the original construction. Annually, 2.8 million kilograms of tomatoes and 1.2 million kilograms of peppers will be produced in the new greenhouse.
“It can be said that this project is more important than anything else that is happening at the moment in the world,” says the British publication The Observer.The reason? Agriculture consumes between 60% and 80% of all freshwater resources on Earth, so Sundrop Farms’ success – growing vegetables without freshwater resources – is “
, british journalists say.
The system by which Sundrop Farms manages to grow vegetables in the desert, in a period of drought, seems detached from the sci-fi movies.
Numerous parabolic mirrors, placed in a row of 75 meters, follow the sun throughout the day and focus their warmth on a pipe containing oil. Hot oil also heats several nearby seawater reservoirs. The sea water is pumped from a few meters below the ground (the shoreline being only 100 meters away). Oil heats seawater to 160 degrees Celsius, and the steam produced is directed to turbines that produce electricity. Some of the hot water heats the greenhouse during cool nights, and the rest is directed to a desalination plant that produces 10,000 liters of fresh water every day. The water is pure, it only takes to add a mix of nutrients before it is poured over the plants. The air in the greenhouse is kept moist and cold thanks to a system whereby water is dripped over a series of evaporation panels made of cardboard, the air being directed through them with the help of fans.
The entire system is computerized, which allows you to control the greenhouse from anywhere in the world. Dave Pratt, a member of the team, can control the conditions in the greenhouse even when he goes out, thanks to an app installed on his iPhone.
“These scientists have been bold and adventurous to believe they will succeed,” says Neil Palmer, head of the Australian government-funded Desalination Research Institute. “They produce food without risk, eliminating problems caused by flooding, frost, hail and lack of water, which is now no longer a problem. In addition, it is profitable and is also scalable without limits – there is no shortage of sun or sea water. It is very impressive“, adds Palmer.
“The sky is really the limit,” says Reinier Wolterbeek, a Dutch engineer who serves as project manager at Sundrop. “First of all, we are all young and very ambitious. This is the criterion by which we elect new team members. Now that we have demonstrated to horticulturists, economists and supermarket representatives that what we are doing here works and is commercially viable, we are now also considering the possibility of growing protein in a similar greenhouse. In other words, we want to feed the whole world.”, says Wolterbeek.
Another advantage of the Sundrop system is that vegetables are produced without the use of any pesticide. The only reason these vegetables can’t get the label “organic” is that they are grown hydroponically, not in the soil.
The greenhouse does not depend entirely on technology. Inside it live a number of bees that help develop crops and live without being threatened by predators. Sundrop Farms also uses a species of “beneficial insects”, known as Orius, which kills pests, thus protecting plants.
Despite the low impact that Sundrop’s farm has on the environment, the company’s CEO is not a member of any “green” movement. Philipp Saumweber earned an MBA from Harvard, working throughout his career as a hedge fund manager at Goldman Sachs and later in a family agriculture business.
“After getting involved in agriculture, I soon realized that, in principle, it is based on the transforsea of diesel into food, with the help of water,” says the founder of Sundrop. “That’s why I started to take an interest in saline farming. Freshwater resources are limited, but we drown in salt water. Having been studying this issue for a long time, I came across Charlie Paton, who has been studying this technology since 1991,” Saumweber explained.
Paton was originally a member of the Sundrop team, but he gave up for a hefty sum when the farm was no longer built on his environmental principles.
“What we liked about Charlie’s idea it was that it solved the problem of water in two ways, producing water in an elegant way and also using it to cool the greenhouse. What we didn’t realize at the beginning – which we didn’t agree with Charlie – was that even in the areas. arid exstă cool days, when the greenhouse needs heating. For this reason, we have installed a natural gas-based back-up system, which produces heat and electricity on cloudy or very cold days. This upset Charlie, because that meant that our system was no longer 100% without energy. What Charlie didn’t take into account is that yes, indeed, you can grow anything without heating and badcherries, but the vegetables will have flaws, to be rejected by supermarkets. If you don’t follow their standards, you don’t get paid. It would be ideal that this is not the case, but we cannot try now to change human behavior.” explained Saumweber.
Sundrop continues its expansion efforts, and will shortly inaugurate a new farm in Qatar. If this technology proves successful on a large scale, it will represent an extraordinary success, assuring fears that humanity will encounter serious problems as the planet’s population grows and demand doubles.