Since the dawn of civilisation, forests have been shrinking and deserts have been growing, primarily as a consequence of human activity. The trend continues to this day. During the evolution of the earth, the growth of plants was primarily responsible for creating the moderate climate that we enjoy. The converse is also true: the loss of vegetation is exacerbating problems of climate change. The purpose of our scheme ‘The Sahara Forest Project’ is to reverse the trend of desertification,
Describe the critical need your solution addresses.
The Seawater Greenhouse process has been tested and proven with three trials in Tenerife, Abu Dhabi and Oman. We have a wealth of measured data that allow us to accurately predict how the technology will perform under any realistic climatic conditions.
CSP is a mature technology and there are a number of projects currently in operation, with many more being planned. Similarly to the Seawater Greenhouse, the technology is well-understood in terms of its climatic requirements, productivity, scaling and commercial viability.
The innovative nature of our proposal is in the way that we combine these technologies to produce highly beneficial synergies. This proposal has been proven at a concept level and now needs to be explored in further detail to demonstrate the environmental, social and economic benefits. This will involve the following studies:
• Developing a thermodynamic model to help optimize the process in different climates
• Running climatic models in order to assess the impact of large-scale revegetation and seawater evaporation in hot arid regions
• Researching and developing economic models that inform optimum scaling and procurement methods.
• Advancing proposals from the three Seawater Greenhouse trial schemes that show how local expertise can be developed such that the scheme can be run in a way that yields the greatest benefits to the local population.
• Detailed assessment of the commercial opportunities for extracting useful elements and compounds from seawater such as calcium carbonate, magnesium chloride, sodium chloride and minerals for use in enriching the desert soils.
The results from these studies will guide detailed designs for specific applications. We would use the prize money to carry out this development work. Proving the environmental, social and economic benefits in greater detail would increase the likelihood of this solution being replicated around the world.
Explain your initiative in more depth and its stage of development.
The process of desertification is a classic example of a failing system that leads to a whole range of other impacts including water shortages, resource conflicts and exacerbated climate change.
The Sahara Forest Project would have the restorative effect of returning areas of desert to forested land and sequestering substantial quantities of atmospheric carbon in new plant growth and reactivated soils. The scheme is based on two proven technologies that together can create large amounts of renewable energy, zero carbon food and fresh water in some of the most resource-constrained parts of the planet. The idea is replicable in many desert regions and, if created on a scale comparable to some of the large existing greenhouse developments, would produce significant local and global climatic benefits. We believe the scheme represents a major step in the transition from a carbon economy to a closed loop solar economy.
How does your strategy and approach respond creatively and comprehensively to key issues?
The team expertise includes architecture, engineering and horticulture, as well as a proven ability to deliver large-scale innovative schemes. During the next project stage, this core team would be supplemented by specialist expertise to assist in carrying out detailed studies.
Charlie Paton is the inventor of the Seawater Greenhouse and a number of other ground-breaking innovations. The Seawater Greenhouse won eight prestigious awards including the1999 ‘Design Sense Award’ for Sustainable Design, the 2006 ‘IET Institute of Engineering + Technology Sustainability Award’ and the 2007 ‘The St Andrews Prize for the Environment’.
Michael Pawlyn established Exploration in 2007 to focus on environmentally sustainable architecture inspired by nature. Prior to this he worked with Grimshaw for ten years and was central to the team that radically re-invented horticultural architecture for the Eden Project. The project has won numerous national and international awards for sustainable design.
Bill Watts is a partner at Maxfordham LLP, a firm that designs services for innovative and landmark buildings such as the Zero emissions RES Headquarters in Kings Langley, the Royal Festival Hall, and the Tate Modern. They are currently working on a strategy for scaling up the agriculture of Qatar to be strategically self-sufficient.