Ambitious project to green the desert to begin in Jordan


January 19, 2011

Conceptual illustration of the Sahara Forest Project that will produce fresh water, electricity and food in the desert (Image: Sahara Forest Project Foundation / Screenergy)

Conceptual illustration of the Sahara Forest Project that will produce fresh water, electricity and food in the desert (Image: Sahara Forest Project Foundation / Screenergy)

An ambitious project that aims to turn arid desert land into a green oasis took a step closer to becoming reality last week when an agreement was signed on the rights to develop a pilot system in Jordan. The Sahara Forest Project’s (SFP) first facility will be located on a 2,000,000 square meter (21,527,821 sq. ft.) plot of land in Aqaba, a coastal town in the south of Jordan where it will be a test bed for the use of a combination of technologies designed to enable the production of fresh water, food and renewable energy in hot, arid regions.

The partners behind the Sahara Forest Project are Bill Watts of Max Fordham Consulting Engineers, Seawater Greenhouse, Exploration Architecture and the Bellona Foundation, an international environmental NGO based in Norway, who have been working on the idea since 2009.

In 2009, after first studies showed that the concept was feasible and economically viable, the project was presented internationally at the December 2009 UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, where it was well received. In June, 2010, Jordan’s King Abdullah II saw a project presentation during a visit to Norway and was impressed enough to say he was ready to facilitate its implementation in Jordan.

The main pillars of the project are saltwater greenhouses, concentrated solar energy, and cultivation of traditional crops along with energy crops such as algae, which all come together in one location to solve a whole range of environmental problems.

The SFP would use saltwater greenhouses to grow crops throughout the year in desert locations without any supply of freshwater. Seawater is evaporated from grilles at the front of the greenhouse to create cool humid conditions inside. A proportion of the evaporated seawater is then condensed as freshwater that is used to irrigate the crops, re-vegetate surrounding dry areas and provide water to the concentrated solar power plant.

The solar power plant is in turn used to generate electricity to power the pumps to transport the seawater from the Red Sea to the saltwater greenhouse and the fans to circulate the humid air within the greenhouse. The greenhouse will also be used to cultivate algae to absorb CO2 and provide biomass to be used for energy and food production.

The project partners say that, in essence, when these different technologies are put to use in a combined approach, the processes will start “feeding” each other and provide not only environmental, but also commercial benefits.

The project envisions three separate stages of development. In depth studies will be carried out throughout 2011, construction of a Demonstration Center is slated to start in 2012, and commercial-scale development is set to start in 2015.

Via Treehugger

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Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

LoL clearly a con. If project is a money pit, that will never meet commercial production. Congrats Jordan for persuading the Gullible, kind hearted, idots into spending money on something that will never achieve any meaningful goal. If this project was actually economically viable a for PROFIT organization would be doing it.

Michael Mantion

they are going to have to figure out how to deal with all the salt and crap that comes out of the seawater when you evaporate it. I can see that clogging everything up VERY quickly.

Also it doesn\'t mention how the water vapour is \"condensed\". This is non-trivial when ambient temp is like 50C. Could use a heat pump to transfer the heat from the vapour into some relatively cool part of the hot water cycle in the solar generation plant.


sounds good, looking forward to it

Nader Habaibeh

This looks really fantastic!

Jacob William

Just release copious amounts of CO² in the local area and it\'ll green up on it\'s own. :-)


So what happens to all the dissolved solids that are left behind?

Paul Anthony

Or, they could use the desalination systems that trunzwater makes to get fresh water from any type of water including seawater and it is powered by solar panels.

Daniel Lafontaine

While I understand Mr. Manitons complaints, the science of terraforming has to start somewhere..... Jordan is starting from the unfortunate place of having 3000 years of environmental damage. The system may be a money pit, but if they work out how to change semi-desert into cultivatable lands ( with plants that absorb the sunlight and produce food, which would bring down the ambient temperature) they would be in effect creating an economy. I know Israel has been very big in plating orange trees. Or any other tree that will shade and produce food. My main concern with this project is they they do not know what they are doing. Not that they are incompetent, but the bulk of farming science has been focused on producing as many bushels of grain per acre. This project is about rescuing land and keeping it functional over the long haul and not giving in to short term profit.


They should bio-engineer the plants to tolerate the salt, instead of wasting all that effort trying to get rid of it.

The tides are probably good enough to power pumps to deliver the seawater too - no need for solar and the massive waste & pollution all that infrastructure creates.

Nothing is a \"money pit\". People need jobs. That\'s how our world works.


Great project. As Dennis says, this project can be money pit but terraforming has to start somewhere... If they rescue the land and make it habitable / cultivable they achieve a lot of value. Must not be necessarily capitalist money slave driving least not at first. Not everything needs to be one dimensional profit geared enterprise. Over exploitation has had produced the desert in the first place. Good luck.



I was in Jordan twice in the last 5 years attending International Conferences on Renewable Energy in Amman. Like Israel Jordan can harness Solar Energy in all forms.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

Anumakonda Jagadeesh

Come on you two early commenters, if you have questions then read a bit beyond this page! Seawater Greenhouse already have several successful projects up and running already. They condense the water vapour by passing it over pipes full of colder seawater and the sell the salt as \'gourmet seasalt\'.


Israel have been using similar, but low tech, salt water farming techniques for many years.

This is a great initiative. And thanks for the extra information, Felix.


Might be an idea to save even more water with waterboxxes designed for adult trees Also there is a bacteria that fixes sand and makes it into rock. Perhaps if they use some water to dampen some sand areas in between with this bacteria it will help make the forest more permanent.

One byproduct of this project should be increased rainfall further inland. Can only be good that the equator regions are re forrested.

The sand between the trees should be covered with bio mass.. eg. tree bark or perhaps the algae waste after the bio oil has been extracted.

This sort of thing should start happening in countries like UK too, with agriculture using sea water when its possible. It\'s stupid that an island has water shortages and imports most of its salt. Perhaps in 100 yrs when the gas has run out, people in UK will all have saltwater greenhouses in their gardens with water provided via the old gas pipe network. Hopefully using salt water for water and heat, fuel production.(Hydrogen Oxygen).

Mind you if we all start splitting water.. I bet that there will be a O2 climate problem instead of a CO2 problem. Too much O2 triggers global warm up too I think.

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They better work fast, because the last reports I read of the Red Sea is that it\'s volume is down 50% since 1980.


felix above is right. Sometimes I wonder if many of the commenters here have ever taken science classes. You don\'t have to be a genius to figure out some of these things. Obviously, they\'re going to use a heat exchanger to pre-warm incoming water while simultaneously condensing vapor. It\'s basic thermodynamics. And it\'s common knowledge that one of the commercial products for many centuries in areas like the Dead Sea, Sea of Jordan and Mediterranean is sea salt. It\'s not a \"waste product\" that they have to get rid of.


Interesting project but what\'s with the name? Jordan is not in the Sahara.

Jim Resta

I have no special knowledge in this field, but although I don\'t know the details, this seems like a very interesting project. Just using superficial logic, this should add up to a self supporting system with no negative footprints.

The organisation running this project, the Bellona Foundation, is as mentioned Norwegian. So am I, meaning I\'m familiar with them as they have had quite a strong presence here the last 30ish years. In the beginning they were young idealists of the rather determined and activist kind. They exposed several industrial crimes by digging up poison barrels, blocking building sites, etc and got very popular in the process. They actually made companies understand they would have to adopt a different attitude and cooperate with these guys, rather than fight them and get properly fucked in the media.

Gradually, along with its key personnel, Bellona became more adult and became active in research and advisory functions. They early on adopted the philosophy that there is no point trying something if it\'s not realistic. In the end it has to be profitable or have some other motivating feature. They put much resources into practical research, and quite regularly criticise other organisations for believing big expensive changes can be made based on idealism alone.

Bellona still keeps its clear opinions well known, but has kept its attitude towards actually doing productive and important things rather than just talking. If they work with a project, including this one, it\'s because they think it\'s realistic and got potential for large scale implementation.

I have no other relation to Bellona or this project than our common nationality, and having accidentally met its leader a couple of times in social contexts (with beers).


Considering that climate change could turn much of the world, including the mainland US into desert, these guys may be saving all our asses. Whatever comes out of this, we might be using it in midwest USA in 40 years.


Considering that climate change could turn much of the world, including the mainland US into desert, these guys may be saving all our asses. Whatever comes out of this, we might be using it in midwest USA in 40 years.


This project may be closely monitored by NAS. The space agency and organizationsinterested in space exploration has mentioned interest in terraforming planets,certain selected asteroids and even the moon to where thay are constructed intoworlds that can sustain and support human life. With Jordan being a relativily hostile environment (being a semi-arid desert),effortscould present discoveries in water management, new agricultural applications andpresent developement and adaptions for renewable energy technology. This is a project that may be viewed as a wrong idea but in the long run, it\\'s pursuit will be for the right reasons.


This project has no guarentee to succeed. However it is an ambitious and beneficial project that has massive potential. Therefore it\\'s pursuit just.

NASA may be watching the developement of this project. The space agency has often mentioned the possibility of terraforming planets , selected asteroids and even the moon to develope them into worlds that are capable of supporting and sustaining human life with a breathable atmosphere and productive agricultural developement.

With Jordan being a semi-arid territory it could be the litmus test to environmentl developwment that NASA sees interest in perfecting.

Water has been discovered on Mars and on the moon. The interest in these dicoveries for space exploration can be seen in colonization. The ambitious project that Jordan is pursuing could provide NASA and other interest groups in space exploration learn means in terraforming that can be applied beyond the boundries of this world.

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But can the bees survive in that area? If they think that we can survive on Earth without the north snow and amazon forest with this project they are not humans...

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Well I\'d imagine that it would be cost effective with the use of aeroponic\'s or something similar to that as it only uses 20% of the water you would need if you were planting stuff in the ground and as for the reforesting the desert if you give trees enough water and nutrients they hold the sand together them self\'s and for the salt form the sea water it seem there not evaporating all the water out of the sea water so most likely the leftover brine (extra salty water) would be dumped back into the ocean like navy ships and the like already do. Also the idea of global warming is just total bull humans as a race as we do add to the CO2 in the atmosphere its a small amount in the big picture as our plant has a natural CO2 cycle that varies over time, plus with out CO2 and other green house gasses in our atmosphere our plant would be a giant ice cube as we don\'t receive enough heat form the sun if it all escapes to keep the plant livable it\'d be around about -22 degrees Fahrenheit year round.


When are humans going to start following the laws of nature, forget their domesticated ways and stop manipulating everything.

Liberate the ruminants and place them at the edge of the desert. Before anyone knows it, the dung of the ruminants will convert the desert into fertile soil.

marzo This is an amazing idea check it out. Create massive inland mangrove swamps in the sand seas of Algeria with water pumped over the Atlas mountains near Tan Tan in Morocco. Once over the mountains the water will pool in shallow seas that can be planted with mangrove, plant enough and we'll create weather and fresh water over the entire Sahara. That means savannah and forests and sustainability. Please like and share the page if you can!

Kevin Dwan
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