The Sahara Forest Project pilot facility in Qatar is brought forward as a concrete case in the new UN report FAO’s key publication, Walking the Nexus Talk.
PICTURE: Elsa Naumann/Sahara Forest Project. Joakim Hauge: CEO of the Sahara Forest Project.
By Bonnie James
Deputy News Editor
The Sahara Forest Project (SFP) pilot facility in Qatar has been cited by the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations as an example for making possible “high-quality and diverse food productions in desert areas, minimising energy and freshwater needs”.
“The facility is technology-intensive, but the experience could be replicated in coastal areas of other dry countries,” the FAO has suggested in its latest key publication, Walking the Nexus Talk: Assessing the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus in the Context of the Sustainable Energy for All Initiative.
The FAO report shows how to carry out a WEF nexus assessment approach to understand the interactions between water, energy and food systems and evaluate the performance of a technical or policy intervention.
The first feasibility study for the SFP concept was presented at the UN Climate Summit in 2009 (COP 15 in Copenhagen). Three years later the first pilot facility was opened in Qatar and showcased at the UN Climate Conference in 2012 (COP 18 in Doha).
Through five years of studies, field testing and pilot operations, a solid foundation is now in place for enabling the roll-out of the SFP.
“The new report from the FAO will be a valuable tool in future assessments of the water-energy-food nexus,” said Joakim Hauge, CEO of the SFP, while expressing pride that the project was brought forward as a concrete case for delivering on the message.
The pilot facility is a partnership between Yara International ASA, Qatar Fertiliser Company and the SFP, which has designed a technological system where waste from one technology is used as resource for another.
The pilot operations have verified the viability of profitable, large-scale, seawater-cooled greenhouse production round-the-year in Qatar, with a high-quality and efficient process realised with half the fresh water usage than in comparable greenhouses.
The yields indicate that SFP will match the yearly import of cucumbers and tomatoes to Qatar with eight and 40 hectares, respectively, of greenhouse production. With 60 hectares of greenhouse production, SFP will match the yearly import of cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers and aubergines to Qatar.
The yields, competitive with those in commercial operations in Europe, indicate three crops a year will produce at least 75kg/sqm. Significantly higher yields can be achieved in a commercial set-up.
The first fully operational Concentrated Solar Power unit in Qatar, set up in the SFP pilot facility, was used to drive a thermal desalination unit for production of freshwater for plants in the greenhouse and outside.
Heat from the desalination system was used to warm the greenhouse in the winter. Excess waste heat was removed through innovative links with the greenhouse and evaporative hedges which provided wet-cooling efficiencies without cooling towers.
The external evaporative hedges provided cooling up to 10 degrees for agricultural crops and desert revegetation. Vegetable and grain crops grew outdoors throughout the year. Useful desert plants grew rapidly when cultivated with small quantities of water and nutrients.
The saltwater infrastructure made possible many concept extensions. Salt was produced in large evaporative ponds as the end product of the saltwater value chain.
With a comprehensive set of data from field operations and strong results in Qatar, the SFP started the business implementation phase on October 1 last year. This phase prepares the ground for expansion of the project and determines if there are needs for additional supplementary pilot operations to support roll out of the concept.
All phases of the project have been performed according to schedule. Currently, there are no activities going on at the pilot facility. On June 22 this year, the SFP signed an agreement with the Norwegian embassy in Amman for establishing a SFP Launch Station and related activities in Jordan.