Not only has the world’s first farm entirely run by sunlight and seawater opened, but it’s also, unexpectedly, in the Australian desert.
Sundrop Farm, built in the arid desert region near Port Augusta, South Australia, has been six years in the making. Running entirely on Sundrop’s originally designed solar and seawater-powered technologies, the 20-hectare (49-acre) greenhouse is the first agricultural system of its kind and is seriously raising the renewable energy game.
Purposely set up in a dry, hot, and arid region highly unsuitable for conventional farming, Sundrop’s aim is to show that it is possible to commercially grow produce in such a harsh environment – and to do so without using fossil fuels, pesticides, or even soil.
“Through the establishment of our high-tech greenhouse facilities, we are driving solutions for the production of healthy food in a manner that eradicates the impacts of variability to ensure sufficient supply of produce in line with consumer expectations, and ultimately promote long-term viability of farming in regions facing water and energy supply constraints,” said Sundrop Farms Managing Director for Australia, Steve Marafiote in statement.
The facility is situated just over a mile from the Spencer Gulf, from where it pumps in seawater, then removes the salt from the water with its thermal desalination plant. The salt and nutrients are then collected either to be reused to fertilize crops or sold to other agricultural producers.
The desalination plant is powered by a 115-meter-high (377-foot-high) solar tower that has 23,000 mirrors pointed at it and can produce up to 39 megawatts a day. The tower also produces enough energy to power the plant-growing systems and provide electricity to heat and cool the giant greenhouse.
The 180,000 tomato plants grow in coconut husks, so there is no need for soil. The ventilation system uses seawater to clean and sterilize the air, so there is no need for pesticides. It’s starting to sound too good to be true, but it’s already proving viable.
With an estimated 15,000 tonnes (16,500 US tons) of tomatoes produced each year, Sundrop has already started selling its produce in Australian supermarket Coles, and has plans to open greenhouses in Portugal and the US.
Sundrop Farm is a pioneer of the technologies and possibilities of effectively using locations that have little or no access to arable land, fresh water sources, or grid energy. It is not, however, the only innovative thinker of how to develop agriculture in inhospitable places. From vertical floating farms in highly urbanized areas to urban underground farming, there are many different ways to approach the future of global food security.
With climate change making the need for practical and viable uses of renewable energy a reality, as well as of a future that may include a rise in megadroughts, bigger storms,reduced crop productivity, and once fertile lands being reduced to unfarmable environments, it’s good to know that we are continuing to seriously explore our options.