by Amber

Seawater Hydroponics

It is impossible to grow any crop in water from the ocean. But it is possible to have a hydroponic system that gets its water from the sea. The same seawater that cools the greenhouse environment, and can restore outdoor plant life in a desert region.

This remarkable and really exciting development was engineered by Seawater Greenhouses in London. Its a concept that grew from knowledge of lighting through his career in special effects and a fascination of how sun energy affects plant growth. It all started by the profound impression the lush tropical greenery made on Charlie Paton while he was on his honeymoon some years ago. Fascinated by the process plants go through to develop and produce food, Paton came up with a concept that turned a greenhouse into the opposite of what the average one is.

Naturally, this didn’t happen overnight. A great deal of thought and effort went into the creation of his seawater greenhouse design. It’s rather ingenious, and fascinating, all the perks that seawater actually has. Such as all the years of nutrients and minerals that have washed into it from farming activities on dry land. Charlie’s design recaptures those elements from the sea, putting them back to good use generating quality fresh fruits and vegetables.

A standard greenhouse traps heat in, but this greenhouse uses seawater to cool it at the same time it’s making fresh water for the crops. Granted this model wouldn’t work everywhere, but any flat ground close to the ocean is the perfect location, because the first step is to pump the water to the greenhouse. The shorter the distance it travels is obviously a plus, even though it’s possible to harness solar energy to fuel the system from the waves to the growing bench.

Once the water reaches the greenhouse, it is run over a honeycomb arrangement of pads that give it enough surface area that it becomes evaporative cooling, which in turn increases the interior humidity by as much as 90%. Next the salt is removed, supplying more than enough water to grow an entire greenhouse packed with plants in a hydroponic system. The model disposes of the brine, but Paton thinks it is viable to take it a step further and produce sea salt from the waste.

Far from just creating irrigation  for the fruit and veg inside the greenhouse, it can generate enough water to provide moisture for outdoor plants too. Virtually an oasis in the desert from the looks of it, but those plants also can provide further cooling effects on location, and add humidity where there was none.

This system can raise humidity as much as 90% and reduce the temperature by up to 15 degrees, making it the perfect environment for growing food in the worst climates. Unlike the huge amounts of energy needed to run the average greenhouse, here they can rely pretty much on water and the sun. Solar energy collection is in use at the locations Seawater Greenhouses have models in operation.

The first one was built over a decade ago to provide fresh food where it was impossible to grow their own is in Tenerife. Since then Paton has installed seawater greenhouses in Abu Dhabi, Oman, and Gran Canaria.  The projects are always low-cost installations, because the people who live in these kinds of places usually have little to no money to invest in getting it started. But Sundrop Farms in Australia have taken their Seawater Greenhouse and turned it into a high-technology growing operation.

Feeding the world is not as difficult as they would like us to believe. The world can feed itself, given the means to do so. And this technology does more than feed them, it creates hope where there was none, and can bring about an even brighter future for these locations than just having food to eat. It can generate an income for some of the most desolate places in the world.

To learn more about using sun and seawater to grow food where it is otherwise impossible, check out these links:

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The garden played a starring role from spring through fall in the house Amber was raised in. She has decades of experience growing plants from seeds and cuttings in the plot and pots.