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Sahara Solar Breeder Project aims to provide 50 percent of the world’s electricity by 2050

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November 24, 2010

Possible model of the Sahara Solar Breeder Project

Possible model of the Sahara Solar Breeder Project

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This is ambition with a capital A. Universities in Japan and Algeria have teamed up on a project that aims to solve the world’s energy problems. Called the Sahara Solar Breeder Project, the plan is to build manufacturing plants around the Sahara Desert and extract silica from sand to make solar panels, which will then be used to build solar power plants in the desert. The power generated by the initial plant or plants would be used to “breed” more silicon manufacturing and solar power plants, which will in turn be used to breed more again, and so on. The ultimate goal is to build enough plants to provide 50 percent of the world’s electricity by 2050, which would be delivered via a global superconducting supergrid.

To turn the world’s biggest desert into the world’s biggest power station the Sahara Solar Breeder Project aims to take advantage of two resources that are found in abundance in the Sahara – silica and sunlight. However, to make such an ambitious plan a reality there are more than a few hurdles that will need to be overcome. For example, there is currently no technology for making silicon from desert sand, then using it to make solar cells. Also, connecting the desert power supply to the world will require cables that must be cooled with liquid nitrogen and placed underground to minimize temperature fluctuations.

The Sahara Solar Breeder Project aims to 'breed' solar power plants in the Sahara

Initial research

That is why the project, which is getting underway this year, will initially focus on the development of the basic technology to make the project practical. Specifically, demonstrating the possibility of manufacturing high-purity silicon from desert sand, which is the key to the project, and constructing a high-temperature superconducting, long-distance, DC power supply system. With the initial aim of producing a 100 kW solar cell in 2011, the project ultimately aims to achieve a solar plant with an annual capacity of at least 100 GW by 2050.

“While we develop technology for using desert sand to make just one ton of silicon per year, or actually build just one power plant in the desert, all sorts of problems, such as sandstorms, will arise. And we will obtain basic data for solving those problems,” says project leader Hideomi Koinuma, who calls the project the Super Apollo Project, referencing both the Greek god of light and the sun, and NASA’s Apollo project that put man on the moon.

The research is a joint project between Japanese and Algerian universities, including Tokyo University, the National Institute for Materials Science, Hirosaki University, Tokyo Institute of Technlogy, Chubu University and the Universite des Sciences et de la Technologie d’Oran, through the International Research Project on Global Issues by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (JST) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). But the project participants recognize that, ultimately, the task will require a worldwide effort, particularly among North African countries.

Koinuma says the total research expenditure of the project will be 100 million yen (just under US$2 million) annually for five years. He admits that won’t be enough to see the project completed but hopes it will establish the basic technology for providing the ultimate solution to the world’s energy problems.

Training for developing counties

Subscribing to the "give a man a fish and he eats for a day, but teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" philosophy, another major aim of the project is to train scientists and engineers from developing countries. To that end, the project won’t just bring well-understood technology from developed countries, but will involve people from both developing and developed countries working together on R&D right from the outset.

“Because technology hasn't yet been established for making silicon from desert sand, then using it to make solar cells, our aim is to work together from the basic research stage, so we can discover and nurture talented scientists and engineers in Africa," said Koinuma.

The project definitely has some lofty and worthy aims. We can only wish them well in their endeavors and hope this is one project that achieves its ambitious goals.

Via DigInfo TV

About the Author
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
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13 Comments

Very Ambitious Plan. When realised it will be best use of Solar Energy.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

Anumakonda Jagadeesh
24th November, 2010 @ 08:56 pm PST

This may sound very Ambitious but, what happens when a sandstorm sandblasts everything to smaller pieces?

YukonJack
25th November, 2010 @ 06:31 am PST

Produce solar grade silicon and the solar panels where there is sufficient water and capabilities to sustain the manufacture. Install the panels in the economically suitable locations based upon transmission efficiencies and need. The plan as put forth so far is at one of the low efficiency extremes but has sufficient merit for both universities to warrant optimization.

qwester
25th November, 2010 @ 07:50 am PST

Instead of super long super conducting cables, why not split sea-water for hydrogen to be ballooned off to wherever needed and oxygen to use making the silica?

Facebook User
25th November, 2010 @ 07:57 am PST

Why not use this energy from the solar desert to breakdown water to hydrogen and oxygen, and then send the hydrogen around the world to run cars and industry and homes and to all kinds of things. The oxygen has many uses as well.

Jerome Klosowski
25th November, 2010 @ 09:38 am PST

I have to agree with Piers and Jerome, why waste effort and money trying to build a "superconducting supergrid" when you could export the solar panels to where they will be used. Or make hydrogen? One of the reasons it is so expensive to install solar panels at home is because of the relatively low supply. Create a massive solar panel factory and distribute the panels. Australia, China and the US, to name just three countries, have large areas that get plenty of sun, at least as much as the Sahara surely?

Scion
25th November, 2010 @ 07:29 pm PST

Why use a grid at all? Why not use Tesla's old patent, and wirelessly transmit the power? What a waste of materials to make a 'Superconducting transmission grid'! Or if not tesla's 'Wardencliffe' design, microwaves!

Jeremy Nasmith
26th November, 2010 @ 12:06 pm PST

This is a great step into the future, in 2050 ill be in my 60's and i might not get the full effects of this just because plans in business change with time but just watching this project start and knowing ill get to see it grow into a working industry will be amazing in itself

Facebook User
27th November, 2010 @ 06:52 pm PST

You ask why they are bothering to develop the long distance power grid... I thought the answer would be obvious.

1. the project needs shor-term goals that radically improve life for current infrastructure.

2. The project isnt expected to succeed so any short term goals need to be usable today.

3. Theres lots of sand there and its cheap...

4. The only way the project would succeed is if they enclosed the cells in glass domes that would be replaced each sand storm. So if this project was actually meant to succeed they would have included this in the initial goals they didnt..so the project is a goose.

5. I believe the author omitted some information...The means to extract the sand for testing in Japan...im sure they would exporting it for tests...lots of it. Possibly a few mountains worth over several years for little cost...Hell japan needs a new shore line...

6. I dispute this "there is currently no technology for making silicon from desert sand."

7. Jeepers that nice sandy area away from everyone looks like a good place to put a listening station...now what cover story shall we use, hmmmm. Dont be surprised if the Chinese add a few researchers into the mix on this project...

mg
27th November, 2010 @ 10:36 pm PST

This is a project like from a textbook utopia. Only Lunar Solar Power project beats it in its lofty ambition. Good luck.

In a way, Lunar Solar Power could be in fact realizable, if some utopia conditions prevail down on Earth. If Nixon did not kill the Apollo (and did not start the shuttle the way he did, cutting its budget so that ultimate crap of a shuttle was made instead of the real one) we would have likely had the Lunar Solar Power by now.

Comparing to Lunar Solar, Sahara Solar is down to earth. Both technologies are likely realizable. And there is definitely enough energy in Sahara (and for that matter anywhere in the deserts of today) to feed everybody with energy surplus by 2050. To be able to produce silicon out of desert sand would be a nice know-how to have. Superconductors too. Energy is abundant. When you have energy you have everything starting with the living standard of envy.

The real hurdle is the politics. I mean Nixons. Mean, shortsighted and scheming Nixons. They killed Apollo and they would do their worst with Super Apollo as well if history has something to teach.

nehopsa
28th November, 2010 @ 05:08 pm PST

The sun and sand will be there. What is missing is economics that make sense. Who will buy the power when natural gas plants can supply power all over the world for 1/4 the cost per KWH?

tsvieps
29th November, 2010 @ 12:41 am PST

to tsvieps: actually, I think this is exactly the problem here, this so called "economic sense". In fact what you suggests does not make necessarily sense at all even if it is the ONLY SENSE you are able to see. If you take into account issues of "deep economy" like the the fact that if you burn enough of the supposedly "cheaper" fossil fuels you will just externalize your costs. You are NOT really "cheaper" - just you do not pay for it. Somebody else pays for your costs. You are being subsidized and getting fat. You allow somebody else to pay for you be it the cost of environmental degradation, disastrous quality of life, unacceptable health damage ..or simply the incalculable cost of lost future options. One day sooner or later you will get the peak oil/peak everything. If you did not make WISE investment in the meantime investigating what OTHER OPTIONS you have you WILL NEVER HAVE THEM when they are needed, necessary and literally life-saving. When you run down everything "on the cheap" after a while you run out of options. You ate your seed corn so to speak.

This is the issue with this project. It is a HUGE INVESTMENT into future quality of life. But somebody likes to feed his/her belly at the moment getting fat. That was exactly at the root of the tragedy of NASA and their shuttle: it was more comfortable getting fat with a failed project than strive and starve for the sake of future options.

nehopsa
29th November, 2010 @ 09:21 pm PST

@tsvieps

Who will buy this energy? European economies for example. Instead of importing the oil or gas and converting it into electricity they could then import electricity directly.

When this project does realize then it would mean also a big political shift.

Kris Lee
30th November, 2010 @ 02:58 pm PST
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