At first glance, growing fruit in the desert sounds like an awfully good way to feed a mushrooming global population and adapt to the worst effects of climate change. And a farm in South Australia run by the greenhouse developer Sundrop Farms is doing just that, using solar power to desalinate water and grow tomatoes in the otherwise parched landscape.
Farmers Weekly reports that the $150 million facility focuses sunlight from 23,000 mirrors onto a tower to produce energy that drives an attached desalination system. Sucking water from the nearby Spencer Gulf, it produces up to one million liters of fresh water every day.
The result is tomatoes—lots of tomatoes. The farm fills eight trucks every day with greenhouse-raised tomatoes, and it’s expected to produce more than 15,000 tons of the things per year when it reaches full capacity.
But while it’s certainly an impressive feat, there is an argument that says there’s simply not much point using solar energy production facilities like this to grow fruit and vegetables. Talking to New Scientist, Paul Kristiansen from the University of New England in Australia said that it was “a bit like crushing a garlic clove with a sledgehammer.” He added, “We don’t have problems growing tomatoes in Australia.”
He has a point. Desalination is on the rise in many areas of the world, but it is mostly done through reverse osmosis, an expensive and energy-intensive process. As a result, desalination plants really only make sense in places that are water-stressed and have the resources necessary to build, run, and maintain them.
That may change as cheaper techniques become more robust and fresh water supplies dwindle in some places as a result of climate change. Even then, though, this isn’t a technology that’s likely to catch on in poorer regions—which, unfortunately, are also the most likely to have a hard time adapting to shifting climate patterns. Solving that problem is likely to be a matter not of sheltering plants in greenhouses, but of designing crops that really can survive in a desert.
Here’s how a Twitter engineer says it will break in the coming weeks
One insider says the company’s current staffing isn’t able to sustain the platform.
Technology that lets us “speak” to our dead relatives has arrived. Are we ready?
Digital clones of the people we love could forever change how we grieve.
How to befriend a crow
I watched a bunch of crows on TikTok and now I'm trying to connect with some local birds.
Starlink signals can be reverse-engineered to work like GPS—whether SpaceX likes it or not
Elon said no thanks to using his mega-constellation for navigation. Researchers went ahead anyway.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.