Seawater Greenhouses: Structures Help Crops Survive In Harsh Desert Conditions

First Posted: Jul 14, 2015 10:34 AM EDT

Researchers at Aston University are working to design greenhouses that will use seawater to grow crops in one of the hottest and driest places on earth.

The project is an effort to overcome inhospitable regions across the Horn of Africa, where temperatures regularly breach 40 °C, water is hard to come by, and because of all these and other particularly harsh conditions, food is rather scarce.

Fortunately, greenhouses help out. The productivity and quality of crops cultivated in greenhouses are typically much improved with traditional open field cultivation, including the use of water and nutrients in a much more economical way.

Furthermore, once installed, the innovative greenhouses work to pump seawater from the sea using solar energy that converts it into freshwater for irrigation via the desalination process. Remaining seawater is brought into contact with the air inside the low-cost net structures of the greenhouses, creating a cool and humid breeze to reduce plant transpiration. Then, salt extracted from the seawater is utilized in cooking and preserving food.

Researchers estimate that by 2050, global agricultural output will need to be increased by 60 percent on current levels to meet demands for food, which they expect will quickly increase the use of desalination and sweater greenhouses.

"I think the project could really make a difference to peoples' futures in the Horn of Africa, which is very much in need of investments to provide for its growing population," Dr Philip Davies, of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, said in a news release. Dr. Davies is working with Dr. Sotos Generals to design the structure and layout of the greenhouses. "We will be working very closely with our partners in Somaliland to increase our understanding of the local challenges and to make sure our contributions are effective."

Together, along with other researchers, officials will collaborate on this project with others at Gollis University, in Somaliland, and the firm, Seawater Greenhouses Ltd.

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