Imagine being able to run a farm on just sun and seawater. Incredibly, a farm in Australia has managed to do just that, building a greenhouse that grew 17,000 tonnes of tomatoes this year.
The farm, which uses no soil, pesticides, fossil fuels, or groundwater, is the first of its kind. Sundrop Farms is located in the South Australian desert. Crops are grown in a hydroponic greenhouse lined with seawater-drenched cardboard.
Sundrop Farms obtains its water from the Spencer Gulf and desalinizes it using 23,000 mirrors to reflect light to a receiver tower to generate solar power. The system is capable of providing 39 megawatts of renewable energy, which is more than enough to keep the entire farm running, even when heated during the winter. The greenhouse contains 180,000 tomato plants, which are grown in coconut husks instead of soil.
During the summer, the seawater-drenched cardboard keeps the plants cool. During the winter, the greenhouse is heated with solar power.
An international team of scientists have spent the last six years designing the farm. They initially launched a pilot greenhouse in 2010. After modifications were made, construction on a commercial-scale facility began in 2014 and was officially launched earlier this month.
Could this be the future of farming? Right now, the team is working on improvements to the design to solve problems caused by solar energy shortages in winter. They are working on getting the design to a place where it will never have to have any reliance on fossil fuels.
The start up costs for building the seawater greenhouse are more than traditional greenhouses, but according to Sundrop Farms CEO Philipp Saumweber, the costs will pay off in the long term due to conventional greenhouses costing more annually because of the cost of running on fossil fuels.
Sundrop is planning to launch similar greenhouses in Portugal and the United States, as well as a second one in Australia.
Tomatoes grown by the farm have already begun to be sold in Australian supermarkets.