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Desert Greenhouses Cooled by Seawater

As temperatures steadily rise, and planetary resources deplete, so grows concerns pertaining to our ability to achieve sustainable means of food production.

With the projected growth of the population expected to continue – up to 2050-60, at least, (if we’re to believe the theories of a coming peak in population) – we are forced to get more creative with our resources and methods for using them.

In the desert these challenges are only multiplied by extreme heat and aridity. Furthermore, land that is currently identified as dry land or plains will soon, due to climate change and soil degradation, be classifiable as desert land in the near future. This results from the process known as “desertification”. These areas, too, will need to achieve a reliable means of irrigation and climate control if agriculture is to continue, let alone flourish, in such regions.

Fortunately, the interest of scientists of diverse backgrounds may bring relief to desert agriculture and ecological systems. Charlie Paton, a British inventor and former film and theater lighting extraordinaire, had visions of growing crops in the desert some 20 years ago. Today, Norwegian biologist, Joakim Hauge, has plans to build a sustainable greenhouse in the desert as part of the Sahara Forest Project.

The Qatar pilot plant will contain greenhouses built with intentions of utilizing seawater to grow cucumbers and other plants, including barley, dune grass, and the medicinal aloe vera, some of which will not grow within the greenhouses themselves, but in surrounding garden plots.

Temperatures in the area averaged about 82-degrees (Fahrenheit) this last March and during August can climb up to 122-degree (F). This is a bit problematic considering temperatures must remain below 82-degrees (F) for cucumbers to flourish. However, with the implementation of seawater, greenhouse interiors have achieved temperatures between 68-85 degrees (F).

There are a couple other crucial ways in which the seawater will be used:

  • Some of it will go to fill ponds onsite for growing marine algae, meanwhile
  • Other generous portions will aid in producing native salt-tolerant plants

The algae produces an array of opportunities in itself, used as feed for fish and livestock, as well as feedstock for pharmaceuticals and food supplements.



Image source: 1. Concentrated Solar Power; 2. Saltwater greenhouses; 3. Outside vegetation and evaporative hedges; 4. Photovoltaic Solar Power; 5. Salt production; 6. Halophytes; 7. Algae production


The plant operates by means of a concentrated solar-powered system. This system powers all the pumps, fans, and other machinery in the plant, and provides the heat and electricity necessary to desalinate the seawater for irrigation.

A useful by-product of the plant’s processes is the leftover brine, which contains 10-15% salt. This brine is used to wet cardboard honeycombs that enclose the small garden plots, cooling them through a process of evaporation. Additionally, as the brine is pumped to evaporation ponds salt is created, which can be sold rather than placing salty water into the sea where it could harm marine life.

If all goes as planned, the Qatar pilot plant will provide harvests of 720,000 cucumbers within the next 10 years.

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