Dreamed up and designed by a 62 year old London theater lighting engineer and led by a 33 year old German former Goldman Sachs banker, Sundrop Farms in Port Augusta Australia is growing food in the desert.
Sundrop Farms is beyond the experimental stage and has successfully produced agriculture in an environment usually hostile to growing much of anything. By using the sun to desalinate seawater and then using the desalinated water for irrigation and to heat and cool greenhouses, the company is able to grow peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes – and large volumes of these vegetables to boot.
Sundrop wants to expand its success and grow more vegetables as well as protein foods like chicken and fish. Sundrop’s farming method uses almost no fossil fuels and no fresh water. Close to the coast, Port August has no shortage of sea water, and Sundrop makes of this plentiful resource.
Traditional agriculture uses between 60% and 80% of the world’s fresh water, so the idea of farming with no freshwater may change agriculture as we know it.
Sundrop uses a 75 meter line of parabolic mirrors that follow the sun all day and focus the heat on a pipe containing a sealed-in supply of oil. Then, this hot oil heats tanks of seawater pumped from below ground. The seawater temperature is raised to 160C by the oil and the resulting steam drives turbines that produce electricity.
Some of the hot water produced us used to heat Sundrop’s greenhouse and the rest is taken to a desalination plant that produced 10,000 liters of fresh water each day, that is then used to water the plants.
Being able to grow an unlimited supply of food in harsh conditions may solve all kinds of global problems from water shortages to deteriorating arable land to widespread starvation and food insecurity.