Today’s crops crisscross the globe: Mexico’s tomatoes end up on your plate, our wheat heads to Africa. As a result, the challenge of growing twice as much food by 2050 to feed nine billion people—with less and less land—is everyone’s problem. But scientists are hard at work fomenting a second green revolution. Here’s how nitrogen-spewing microbes, underground soil sensors and fruit-picking robots will help keep food on our tables.
70%: Amount of the world’s freshwater used for agriculture
Solution Greenhouses built near coasts turn plentiful seawater into freshwater for crops, without expensive desalinization plants.
Potential Farmers could grow cash crops like lettuce and tomatoes in the desert.
ETA Three pilot projects are under way, and researchers are scouting sites for a larger full-scale project.
On frequent trips to Morocco, British lighting designer Charlie Paton was struck by the juxtaposition of sea and vast, sweeping desert. “You’re on the edge of the Sahara but so close to the ocean,” he says. After selling his lighting company, Paton set about designing something that brings the two together: the Seawater Greenhouse, a low-energy means of growing food in desert regions using abundant nearby saltwater. Three pilot greenhouses in Tenerife, the Canary Islands; Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates; and Oman use prevailing winds, fans and simple evaporators to convert seawater into fresh, and in the process create a humid environment in which just about any plant can grow.
Paton is now scouting locations for the Sahara Forest Project, which will add a “concentrating solar power” plant to the greenhouse concept. Extra freshwater could then be used to run the facility (the sun heats water in pipes to make steam, which drives generators) and to clean the huge arrays of mirrors.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.