Seawater Greenhouse: Using seawater and sunshine to grow crops in deserts

Seawater Greenhouse has developed horticultural solutions for some of the most arid of conditions by utilising two abundant resources – sunshine and seawater – to grow crops in hot and desert environments.

Through a method of desalination, these completely solar-powered greenhouse operations use saltwater – piped directly from the sea into wells – to create ideal growing conditions.

Using solar power to pump in seawater from the coastline and then desalinate it on site, this process generates freshwater to irrigate plants, and water vapour to cool and humidify the greenhouse interior.

Seawater Greenhouse creates custom designed greenhouses helping farmers benefit from year-round production in hot and dry coastal regions, often where agriculture would otherwise be impossible.

The company, which was founded by British inventor Charlie Paton after having introduced the seawater greenhouse technology in the 1990s, have established other seawater greenhouses in arid, sun-baked coastal locations including Oman, Abu Dhabi, and Australia.

Charlie Paton said: “The world isn’t short of water, it’s just in the wrong place, and too salty.”

In their most recent project, Seawater Greenhouse worked on a 25-hectare plot of desert land in Somaliland, close to the coastline in Berbera, where they were tasked with building the region’s first sustainable, drought-resistant greenhouse. Within less than a year of launch, the seawater greenhouse produced its first harvest of lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes.

Seawater Greenhouse said: “Somaliland lies in the centre of one of the world’s most food-insecure regions. With this latest project we show that drought need not lead to famine, and through subsequent scale-up enhance self-sufficiency of the region as well as provide drought-resilient livelihoods to smallholder farmers.” 

Charlie Paton and his team’s first pilot project commenced in 1992 with the search for a test site that was eventually found on the Canary Island of Tenerife, once known as the “Garden of the Gods” but now arid and seriously damaged by excessive abstraction of ground water.

A prototype seawater greenhouse was assembled in the UK and constructed on the site in Tenerife. The results from this pilot project validated the concept and demonstrated the potential for other arid regions

Seawater Greenhouse

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief. She writes about lifestyle including sustainable and green living.

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