But what if you could grow biofuels on land nobody wants, using just seawater and sunlight, and produce food at the same time?
That's just what a new project in Abu Dhabi is seeking to do. The Integrated Seawater Energy and Agriculture System
, or ISEAS, will grow sustainable food and aviation fuel in the desert, using seawater and sunshine, in a way that is eminently transferable to similar arid regions around the world.
The project was announced in January 2015 and is now under construction.
A triple dilemma
Energy, water and food problems frequently compound each other, each making the others more difficult to resolve.
Examples abound. Think of wasteful irrigation coming up against water limits and threatening reductions in food production. But there are some projects that turn the issue around and bring water, energy and food issues into positive relations, each strengthening the others.
One example of this is the Sundrop Farms project in South Australia, on which I previously wrote on The Conversation
, where abundant sunshine and seawater are used to produce electric power and fresh water to cultivate greenhouse crops like tomatoes.
The Sundrop Farms project is moving ahead, and has won substantial financial support from the global venture capital firm KKR in addition to its earlier support from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, as well as a contract to supply fresh produce to supermarket chain Coles over the next ten years.
The Abu Dhabi project is even more ambitious and is called "seawater farming". It involves the use of salt-tolerant plants like mangroves and the oil-rich Salicornia as well as aquaculture of seafood such as shrimps and fish.
The project was developed through the Sustainable Bioenergy Research Consortium in Abu Dhabi. It involves as partners the airline Etihad Airways, the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology (from the UAE), as well as corporate giants Boeing, General Electric and UOP Honeywell. These corporations provide the funding and a potentially