The Sahara Forest Project, an environmental technology demonstration in the Middle East, became operational in December 2012. The intention of the project is to demonstrate technologies, such as saltwater-cooled greenhouses, concentrated solar power and algae production, that can enable restorative growth in desert areas.
The greenhouse works in conjunction with a concentrated solar power tower (CSP)—a system that focuses sunlight to generate steam that then produces electricity via turbine generator.
The greenhouse is cooled through evaporative cooling, a process that uses the heat of the desert air to evaporate warm sea water. The resulting cool air is then pumped into the greenhouse to cool it down. The innovative system also condenses the air as it passes over pipes containing cold water from deep in the sea, which creates freshwater through a distillation process. With freshwater in short supply in the desert, this aspect of the project offers a smart way to provide water for plants.
In addition to powering the pump that provides the water, the CSP also creates excess heat through its operation, which can be used to warm the greenhouse as well as dehumidify the air by regenerating the dessicant.
This system mimics the workings of a camel, an animal that uses its nostrils to evaporate and condense moisture to keep itself cool—a smart application of biomimicry. Once fully tested and proven to work, this saltwater-cooled greenhouse could demonstrate that year-round gardening even in the harsh conditions of the Qatari desert is a possibility.