Camel nostrils inspire desert greenhouse

A unique greenhouse that uses irrigated seawater could bring vegetables and algae to the Qatari desert.

The greenhouse will be the cornerstone of a $5.3 million Sahara Forest Project.

The one hectare site will be a hub for environmental technologies © Sahara Forest Project

The pilot project which will see a hectare of land of land set aside for environmental technologies and aims to demonstrate the potential for cultivating desert land.

The greenhouse will borrow tricks from nature to extract the salt from seawater and create conditions for growing plants without the need for external energy or resources.

Sahara Forest Project’s Michael Pawlyn, who was also one of the lead architects behind Cornwall’s Eden Project, told the New Scientist that the plant will be inspired by the way a camel’s nostrils evaporates and condenses moisture to keep cool and from the way fog-basking beetles are able to capture water from the warm night air in the desert.

The site will exploit the difference in temperature between surface seawater and that taken from hundred of metres below the surface.

Both waters will be pumped into the site using solar power, and the hot desert air will be used to evaporate the warm surface water as it flows over “evaporative hedges” alongside the greenhouse.

The cooled air will then pass over the plants creating the optimum growing temperature and then condenses as it passes pipes where cold deep seawater is pumped – creating fresh water.

The water will be used to grow both vegetable and algae which could then be used for biomass production.

Current plans for the plant will see it operating as soon as July, receiving visitors during the COP18 Climate Talks to be held in Doha in November.

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