Green growth taking root in the desert

The Sahara_Forest_Project_pilot_facility_is_a_new_environmental_solutionThe first cucumbers grown in the desert using seawater and solar power were served to participants at UN Climate Negotiations in Doha . After a 10 month intense construction period, invited guests enjoyed the first tours of the Sahara Forest Project pilot facility, realised by Yara, Qafco and The Sahara Forest Project, a new environmental solution to produce food, water and energy in desert areas. ‘It is designed to utilise what we have enough of to produce what we need more of, using deserts, sunlight, saltwater and CO2 to produce food, water and clean energy,’ says Joakim Hauge, CEO of The Sahara Forest Project.

‘This is a fascinating project,’ states the Norwegian Minister of the Environment, Bård Vegar Solhjell, who was among the first guests at the pilot facility inside Measaieed Industrial City in Qatar. ‘It’s almost like you cannot believe it until you see it. Here, they use what there is an abundance of, to create what there is the least of.’

Innovative partnership

In 2011, The Sahara Forest Project AS entered into cooperation with Yara International ASA, the world’s largest supplier of fertilizer, and the Qatari company Qafco, the world’s largest single site producer of urea and ammonia. After successfully completing a comprehensive feasibility study on Qatar, the parties signed an agreement to build the first fully operational Sahara Forest Project Pilot Plant in Qatar.

‘Qafco and Yara are sponsoring this project on a pilot scale to demonstrate the potential of the green technology in arid regions like Qatar, using seawater and solar energy for future larger scale research and commercial platform in the area of horticulture, freshwater generation, energy production and algae production,’ states Khalifa A Al-Sowaidi, CEO of Qafco.

‘This 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 this one are vital to trigger this development,’ says Ole Jørgen Haslestad, CEO of Yara International ASA.

Commercialisation of green technology

The Sahara Forest Project combines already existing and proven environmental technologies, including saltwater-cooled greenhouses, concentrated solar power (CSP) and technologies for desert revegetation around a saltwater infrastructure. The synergies arising from integrating the technologies improve the performance and economics of the system compared to those of the individual components. Through establishing new vegetation in previously barren land the system also offers the potential to store considerable amounts of CO2 in new plants.

‘This project is expected to pave the way for commercialisation 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,’ says Al-Sowaidi.

‘Innovation is essential to address the global challenges. The Sahara Forest Project creates a new approach to the combined issues of food, energy, fresh water and climate change,’ adds Haslestad.

The Sahara Forest Project gained considerable attention at the UN climate negotiations (COP18), which took place in Doha. Guests at the pilot facility, mainly delegates at the COP18, were shown around on the 10000m2 facility, where they learnt about the unique saltwater-cooled greenhouses, Qatar’s first operational Concentrated Solar Plant, the region’s largest algae research facility as well as technologies for turning the desert green.