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Seawater Greenhouse: Cheap Drought-Busting Greenhouses For The World's Most Arid Regions

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A severe drought can devastate harvests and lead to nationwide famine. This low cost greenhouse could make that a thing of the past.

A growing world population combined with climate change induced weather patterns means food security is fast becoming a critical global concern, especially in developing nations where these factors are generally more prevalent.

In order to produce enough food to feed local populations, farmers - who have for generations relied on traditional means to grow food - are increasingly turning to new technological solutions to overcome today’s agricultural challenges.

One group developing such solutions is Seawater Greenhouse, an UK-based company specialising in the development and construction of greenhouses in arid environments. Most recently, they embarked on an ambitious project to build a dought-proof, closed-loop growing facility in Somaliland on the Horn of Africa.

Somaliland’s location and economic makeup presented new challenges for Seawater Greenhouse, which had up to this point mostly operated in wealthier nations such as Australia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. The Somaliland project, based in Berbera, would need to be drastically cheaper and simpler than their previous greenhouses, which had incorporated such technical devices as hydroponic systems and computer controls. What’s more, Berbera’s location on the coast meant not only was it subjected to 45 degree celsius heat, but also fierce winds of up to twenty meters per second.

How Do Seawater Greenhouses Work?

The Berbera concept would still largely work by Seawater Greenhouse’s tried and tested concept, by which seawater is used to cool and hydrate plants in a greenhouse. Seawater is pumped to the facility whereby it undergoes several processes. Firstly, it is used to humidify and cool the interior of the greenhouse, protecting plants against scorching heat, and secondly it is then evaporated and distilled to produce fresh water for agriculture.

To modify the concept to Somaliland, Seawater Greenhouse employed the aid of Aston University who developed mathematical models and Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) simulations based from local meteorological information. This allowed Seawater Greenhouse to better predict the variables in local climate and adjust their construction accordingly.

As a result, they were able to devise a new system which utilised evaporatively-cooled shade net structures that allows the greenhouse to capitalise on the use of ambient weather conditions to drive the process. Furthermore, a salt production facility, powered by its own solar power plant, was also added, providing farmers with another source of income. The air from the greenhouses can also be expelled to the exterior, coolling these temperatures and making the whole area more conducive to farming. All told, the final concept was ten times cheaper than previous greenhouses.

All that remained was for Seawater Greenhouses to team up with regional non-profit PENHA (the Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa) to find a location and start building. Construction stared in August 2017 and finished only two months later. Check out the video below for an aerial view of the finished farm.

Recently, we've heard of a range of innovative greenhouse designs aimed at overcoming local issues for food producers. For example, we’ve seen storm resistant greenhouses in India, greenhouses that produce their own solar power and 'greenhouses' that can grow plants in the middle of a bustling city or even the Arctic