Sundrop,The First Ever Farm to Grow Vegetables Using Just Seawater and Energy From The Sun

Zarmeen Shahzad
Posted Oct 8, 2016
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In the midst of the South Australian desert, Sundrop Farms has managed to grow 17,000 tonnes of tomatoes every year using just sunlight and seawater. This indoor farm is one of a kind and it has managed to baffle us all by its fresh produce. This farm was the result of 6 years of hard core research by a team of international scientists whose only desire was to find a way to produce crops without fresh water, fertile soil and other sources of energy that are expensive. This method may come in handy when our resources that are already very scarce become literally start to disappear.

The team said on their site, “A conventional greenhouse uses groundwater for irrigation, gas for heating, and electricity for cooling. A Sundrop greenhouse turns seawater and sunlight into energy and water. We then use sustainably sourced carbon dioxide and nutrients to maximize the growth of our crops.”

Concept and features

So let’s look at the idea behind this concept and how it turned into being. The team opened the commercial site of the farm in Port Augusta in 2014. The main purpose was to reduce the amount of energy and fresh water used and to make profitable produce. The team did this by using seawater obtained from the Spencer Gulf that was just 2 km away from the farm site. Now the seawater that arrives at the farm is at first desalinated. According to what Alive Klein reported at New Scientist, this process is done on site in a solar powered plant that turns this saline water into ‘fresh’ water by the ‘scrubbing’ the salt out of it.

The roots of the vegetables are grown in coconut husks. To keep these roots safe from the harsh conditions of the dessert environment, the team uses sea-water soaked pieces of cardboard at the base. The heat from the sun is enough for the plants to survive in the harsh winters as well. Since the plants are grown indoors, there is no need for pesticides. The indoor conditions are monitored and controlled and a pest free environment is generated for the plants. Well, this sounds very interesting but the best part is how the team has set up this entire facility by using only the energy from the sun. They did not line the entire facility with solar panels and instead created a field of 23,000 mirrors that focus the rays of the sun onto a fixed tower. This tower then uses this energy to power a generator that produces electricity. The team has also connected the farm with a power grid just in case something goes wrong with this energy supply system especially during the winter months. Smart move by the team I must say.

“We use the Sun’s energy to produce freshwater for irrigation. And we turn it into electricity to power our greenhouse to heat and cool our crops,” the team says. “Our ventilation also uses seawater to clean and sterilize the air, so it keeps bugs under control without the need for pesticides.”

Is it too early to consider this a success?

It still a little early to be sure about what the farm can offer us but according to the team this farm could be the solution to the farmer’s problems around the world. Problems that are increasing day by day, as the resources become scarcer than ever, the land becomes increasingly arid and energy costs keep on increasing. According to researcher Robert Park from the University of New England in Australia told the New Scientist (he is not involved in the project), “These closed production systems are very clever. I believe that systems using renewable energy sources will become better and better and increase in the future, contributing even more of some of our foods.”

Where there is good, bad comes with it and this project has its downsides too. There has yet been no report whether this project is affecting the animals in the area. The mirror based systems, similar to the ones being used in the dessert, have known to burn around 6000 birds every year in the US as the birds fly too close to the highly concentrated sunbeams. Well, the farm may be successful and it may be using less but it’s definitely not using less money. The facility that can host up to 180,000 tomato plants costs around US $200 million! However, the team has claimed that since they can predict the costs more effectively than the conventional farms, this sum will soon pay off.

Only time can tell whether this farm is a successful venture or not. Researchers all around the world will be watching this project closely and for the sake of this world, I think I want to hope that it’s successful.
Only time will tell if systems like Sundrop Farm’s will become the future of agriculture, but researchers around the world will be watching them closely.

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