The whole world has been suffering from an endless number of climatic, economic, and environmental problems. For many years, our planet has been calling for help. Therefore, architects nowadays lean towards the big umbrella of sustainable design. They hope to save the environment while practicing the art of building our lives. More importantly, our planet already has an ample range of resources that need just to be used in the right way to meet the increasing rate of demands. It is not about re-inventing a whole new world or demolishing what we have in hand to rebuild a better place, but it is about using what we have plenty of to produce what we lack and what we need more.
Sahara Forest Project Foundation is one of the best examples to take advantage of the resources of our planet to compensate for several scarcities. The project aims at rehabilitating the desert by transforming it into a sustainable and profitable source of energy, water, food, and vegetation. This model was tested in many places. However, it got implemented in Qatar, Jordan, and recently in Tunisia.
Tunisia is on the Mediterranean coast of Northwest Africa. Desert takes up to almost seventy-five percent of the total area of Tunisia. Consequently, it is characterized by its hot and dry climate, and accordingly, growing food there is not easy. Therefore, the Sahara Forest Project was the best solution in the ambient situation. The project covers around ten hectares of Tunisia desert land. The project depends on mainly three technologies that end up forming a closed-loop system that is known as a circular economy, to reuse the waste in the production process.
First, it uses the seawater-cooled greenhouses technology, which in turn decreases the required crops’ water and the carbon dioxide footprint, which correspondingly increases the yield production. For more elaboration, the technology depends on pumping the seawater to the desert location, which in that case was the easiest and the most affordable as the site is below sea level, eliminating the pumping costs. Then, seawater needs to undergo two processes: It is used to humidify the air to cool down the temperature, and second, it can be evaporated and distilled to be used later as freshwater. Not only that, but the humidified air is expelled outside the greenhouse to improve the growing conditions of the outdoor plants. Finally, to complete the system, the salt resulting from the distillation process can be sold commercially or be used to create more sustainable materials such as salt bricks, which is much lighter than other building materials.
Secondly, the Sahara Forest Project generates energy using solar power technologies. Especially in the desert, around two-thousand and three-thousands KW/h of solar energy can be received every year. That means that the Sahara Desert is capable of producing more than seven times the electricity demand of Europe and Northern Africa combined, with almost zero carbon emissions. In consequence, all the electrical installations of the project’s facilities depend on that generated power. However, the larger part gets exported. It uses both Photovoltaic panels and Concentrated Solar Power mirrors to produce heat and electricity. Nevertheless, to emphasize the same concept of the closed-loop system, the seawater-cooled greenhouses also play a role in cooling the CSP mirrors without the need to construct a freshwater cooling tower.
Besides, the Sahara Forest Project facility also focuses on revegetating the desert. That can be achieved by combining water efficiency, soil reclamation, and evaporative systems. It utilizes Nitrogen-fixing and salt-removing plants to improve the soil conditions and boost yield production.
Nevertheless, the project not only targets the economic and environmental aspects to rehabilitate the desert but also brings new qualities to a space that has always been thought of as inhospitable and abandoned. SFP will also employ hundreds of people – from farmers to high-skilled labor force to operate the facilities. Moreover, the project aims to encourage all the surrounding countries to investigate the desert hidden resources, which will contribute to the re-balance of the ecosystem.
To sum up, SFP covers the three aspects of sustainability on a highly large scale, environmental, economic, and social. Tunisia has been able to grow new crops while taking advantage of seawater to be used in irrigation and cooling phases. At the same time, it is a self-sufficient project as the whole energy used to operate the facilities is generated from the solar power that is abundant in the Sahara Desert. Food, water, and clean energy have been provided by using the existing sources of the land. We -humans- have the ability to harness and develop solutions influenced by nature to restore its great value.