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Everyone said it would fail, but a seed was planted in the desert, and it began to grow into a new hope for vertical agriculture.
There are many conditions determining the success of a vertical farm and we covered some of them in our very first, and still our most popular, post. The last one we touched upon was local demand, and it’s hard to beat a desert in terms of demand for lush, fresh food.
Demand leads to innovation, and in this case, to the Sahara Forest Project. The Sahara Forest Project is a facility located in the heart of Qatar’s desert designed to utilize saltwater and CO2 inputs to produce food, water and energy. There is a series of desalination systems, water reclamation hardware, and solar panels.
It’s hard not to see the potential profit of that demand, especially when that demand is based in Qatar, the richest per capita nation in the world. The desert peninsula imported 90% of its food as of 2011 and is projected to start importing more, so its easy to see how a domestic alternative could shine.
According to Yara International, one of the funders. “One of the goals is also to demonstrate the potential for cultivating desert land and making it green. Outdoor vertical evaporators will create sheltered and humid environments for cultivation of plants. The pilot will contain outdoor hydroponic raceways for cultivation of halophytes – plants tolerant of irrigation with salty water.”
Funding from the project also comes from Qafco, Qatar’s national fertilizer companyl. The initial expenses were projected at $5.3 million but ended up at $7.1 million.
The Sahara Forest Project is located on 107,639 sq ft. The company claims a facility that size has the potential to produce 34,000 tons of vegetables employ over 800 people, export 155 GWh of electricity, and sequester 8,250 tons of CO2.
Crunching those numbers with the wholesale price commanded by different regional commodity crops and Sahara Forest makes a strong case for its technology.
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