A farm in South Australian desert is now growing 17,000 tonnes per annum using only the sunlight and the abundant seawater. This innovative and rather a futuristic concept is the result of a committed research consisting of finding a way to produce crops without the need of fresh water, soil and even energy from the grid.
The research team explained their efforts, “A conventional greenhouse uses groundwater for irrigation, gas for heating, and electricity for cooling. A Sundrop greenhouse turns seawater and sunlight into energy and water. We then use sustainably sourced carbon dioxide and nutrients to maximise the growth of our crops.”
The farm obtains its water supply from the Spencer Gulf, which lies 2 kilometres (1.24 miles) away. The 20-hectare commercial site is located in Port Augusta and aims to find a way to create sustainable farming techniques which can produce supply using minimum energy and fresh water.
Since the farm is looking to find new ways of cultivation, there are a lot of improvised and ingenious techniques being employed in the process of growth. The sea water is cleaned using a desalination plant on-site, which runs on the solar-power generated electricity.
And since no soil is available in the desert, the roots of the plants are grown in coconut husks. This provides a sustainable habitat for the roots to thrive and also helps in keeping them cool in the unforgiving summer heat of the area, which can rise to 48 degrees Celsius (118 Fahrenheit).
Seawater-soaked pieces of cardboard are also installed in the base to keep the plants hydrated. And they also don’t need any pesticides since the plants are grown indoors under closely monitored conditions, enabling pest-free growing environment.
All these processes utilise the solar energy harvested using a field of 23,000 mirrors which focus the sunlight onto a fixed tower, where the power is then generated to create electricity.
The team said on their website, “We use the Sun’s energy to produce freshwater for irrigation. And we turn it into electricity to power our greenhouse to heat and cool our crops. Our ventilation also uses seawater to clean and sterilise the air, so it keeps bugs under control without the need for pesticides.”
Researcher Robert Park from the University of New England in Australia commented on the technology,
“These closed production systems are very clever. I believe that systems using renewable energy sources will become better and better and increase in the future, contributing even more of some of our foods.”
But there are still many loopholes that need to be fixed. For one, the plant still is somewhat dependent on the grid electricity in case something goes wrong, especially during the winter when the sunlight is insufficient for electricity creation.
Also, it still remains to be seen whether the “revolutionary” technology has any negative impact on the ecosystem of the desert. We have already seen similar mirror-based solar facilities in the US have hurting about 6,000 birds per year when they fly into the high-intensity beams of the sunlight to hunt insects.
Also, the farm yielding about 180,000 tomato plants costs roughly US$ 200 million to build, which is a price tag not every farmer can afford.
But in the era where our “trusted” natural resources such as electricity and fresh water are getting more and more scarce, systems such as the Sundrop Farm could be the ultimate solution in a bid to make our economic practices more sustainable and eco-friendly.
Check out the video below to see inside the farm:
What are your thoughts on this revolutionary concept of farming? Comment below!