Jan
25
2010

Mr. Sandman Bring Me a Dream

What would you do with a grain of sand, salty water, a baby seed, and a blow of hot air?

Create a regeneration of life: POOF. This year calls for hotter, brighter, and drier times – and the more, the better.

The Sahara Forest Project Presto: This is the design plan. The project will not necessarily take place in the Sahara desert. The name “Sahara” is Arabic for desert.
Presto: This is the design plan. The project will not necessarily take place in the Sahara desert. The name “Sahara” is Arabic for desert.Courtesy Courtesy Sahara Forest Project
is utilizing arid landscapes such as deserts across the world, direct sunlight, and saltwater in hopes for a change from the global climate crisis.

The project is essentially a gigantic greenhouse. It uses hot desert air and cool seawater to make fresh water for growing crops, solar energy to generate power, planting trees to capture greenhouse gases and restore natural forest canopy, and algae pools to offer renewable biomass fuels. The ultimate goal is to replicate nature in reforestation and revegetation by using desert land to aid in the production of food, water, energy, and new jobs you and your coconscious can feel good about.

The mission is created by scientists, engineers, and research experts from Exploration Architecture, Seawater Greenhouse, Max Fordham Consulting Engineers and the Bellona Foundation. The final proposal was presented at the United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen in 2009, and is under construction for 2010 across multiple demonstration centers. The Sahara Forest Project was also chosen out of 300 projects for presentation at The Clinton Global Initiative. So far these magnificent designs are anticipated to build demonstration facilities in arid regions ranging from the United States to Australia, Africa, and the Middle East.

Why?
Threats on the stability of our ecosystems, natural resources, and human survival for generations to come have pushed science harder than ever. Here are some of the environmental crises we face:
• Freshwater shortage
• Climbing greenhouse gas emissions
• Non-renewable energy decay
• Non-sustainable food production
• Biomass fuel for non-renewable (i.e. fossil fuels) energy shortages

A Connection to Minnesotans
The University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment is tackling a much related and pressing climate issue of our time: “The Global Crisis in Agriculture.” The agriculture crisis investigates solutions for population growth, food consumption, energy costs, and biomass production. The Institute’s top researchers, faculty, and students are calling for collaboration and communication initiatives across all sectors – from agribusinesses to experts, students to farmers, policy makers to you.

The Institute’s magazine Momentum, published three times a year at the University of Minnesota, holds articles on emerging research being held at the Institute, as well as interconnected studies from scientists and experts. In the latest issue for fall 2009, the Institute addresses the big question: how do we feed a growing population at the expense of future human survival? It all boils down to the impact we humans have on our natural resources. Perhaps the Sahara project sheds some light.

Here’s how it works:
Seawater to freshwater:
Greenhouses use hot desert air and saltwater to create freshwater. The process mimics a natural process. Sun-cooked seawater evaporates, cools to form clouds, and then falls as precipitation:
1) Hot, bone-dry air goes into the greenhouse.
2) It is first cooled and dampened by seawater.
(This moist air nourishes crops growing inside the greenhouse)
3) The air then passes through an evaporator, where sun-roasted saltwater flows. The warm, wet air meets a series of tubes containing cool seawater, it evaporates into fresh water squeezes as droplets on the outsides of the tubes and can be stored.

Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction:
Engineers plan for only 10 to 15 percent of the moist air in the “seawater to freshwater” period gets condensed into fresh water. The rest goes outside to water surrounding, planted trees.

Solar Power Energy:
1) Mirrors are constructed to focus sunlight on water pipes and boilers.
2) The intense sunlight creates superhot vapor inside the pipes that can power conventional steam turbines to generate electricity.
3) Any excess power will be used in local communities.
Standing Ovation: The center will heavily concentrate solar power.
Standing Ovation: The center will heavily concentrate solar power.Courtesy National Geographic

Algae Ponds into Biomass Fuel:
1) Open saltwater ponds cultivate algae through photosynthesis.
2) The algae's fat oils are then be harvested as energy-rich biomass fuel.

Gobble Gobble: "Lab-grown algae have been shown to generate up to 30 times more oil per acre than other plants used to make biofuels,” according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Gobble Gobble: "Lab-grown algae have been shown to generate up to 30 times more oil per acre than other plants used to make biofuels,” according to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.Courtesy Courtesy National Geographic
Plus, the foundation’s engineers and creator stress that this biomass-based fuel from the center's photonic energy would be potentially easy to export. (Unlike current biomass fuel production, the great science predicament is how to mobilize and store the biofuels). What has been created is a micro-climate that is nourishing for food and biomass production.

Sustaining Local Communities:
The Sahara Forest Project is also necessitating the use of local community. The project would rely on local people to maintain the complexes.

Altogether, it's a pretty huge deal. Of course there are apprehensions and counter-perspectives. Some say this will be very limiting. Others advocate for the fact that at least we're thinking of new alternatives. It's sustainable. It's restorative. What harm can come from this?

You can also find additional articles about the Sahara Forest Project on their website, National Geographic, Bellona Foundation, or simply by Google search.

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