In 2011, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority and The Sahara Forest Project AS in Amman, Jordan. The Jordanian Minister for Foreign Affairs, H.E. Nasser Judeh, and the Norwegian minister for Foreign Affairs, H.E. Jonas Gahr Støre, were both present at the signing ceremony to show joint Jordanian and Norwegian support for the agreement. The agreement committed The Sahara Forest Project AS to conduct three comprehensive feasibility studies in Jordan. The studies were financed and supported by The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Three studies have been carried out:
The studies prepare for the construction of a 20-ha (200.000 sqm) SFP Demonstration Center, which will serve as a center for innovation, competence building, and demonstration of the economic viability of the SFP concept. The Center will be located near Aqaba, Jordan. The Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority will facilitate the necessary land area for The Sahara Forest Project Center, including a corridor for the salt water pipe running from the Red Sea to the Center. The Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority will also assist SFP AS in identifying and securing 200 ha (2.000.000 sqm) for later expansion.
The studies in Jordan have been carried out by The Sahara Forest Project in close cooperation with a large number of partners and contributors with diverse backgrounds and expertise. The Sahara Forest Project puts a high priority on its relationships with the scientific and business communities in Jordan and promotes a high degree of knowledge sharing between the various contributors. In-depth knowledge of local conditions, whether they are ecological, social, or commercial, is key to the success of the project. In every one of its undertakings, The Sahara Forest Project designs the SFP concept to best serve the environmental, social, and economic needs of the local communities.
Eng. Malek Kabariti talks about the importance of The Sahara Forest Project in a video interview. Eng. Kabariti is The Jordanian Minister of Energy & Mineral Resources. Prior to his appointment to the cabinet Eng. Malek was the Chairman of The National Electric Power Co. (NEPCO), Jordan, and he is the former President of The National Energy Research Center, Jordan.
Jordan is a country of intense sunlight and arid deserts. Combined with its 27 km coastline along the Bay of Aqaba in the south, this makes it an excellent location for the Sahara Forest Project concept.
Water, energy and food security are all interlinked challenges for a country that currently experiences very high levels of water stress. Severe water shortage is a challenge to Jordan’s economic growth – the per capita water share is 145 m3 per year, which is 15% of the internationally recognised water poverty level. The existing pressures on the nation’s energy and water resources already make the commercial case for the Sahara Forest Project in Jordan strong, as the country’s dependence on uncertain imports of natural gas and oil pushes electricity prices to exceptionally high levels and overburdened water resources require major infrastructure investments to ensure that the nation’s basic water needs are met.
The study provides an analysis of key factors such as saltwater (both from the sea and from aquifers), solar and human resources, and ecological opportunities and constraints. Based on this analysis – a long-term vision for the Sahara Forest Project is presented. It begins with a Test and Demonstration Center in the southern Wadi Araba. This will provide a crucial innovation platform for regional and international scientists, and provide training opportunities for local communities. It is suggested that this is followed by commercial expansions in the Wadi Araba, and later by the exploration of commercial-scale inland opportunities utilising sustainable saline groundwater. The facility in southern Wadi Araba might grow to cover more than 3000 hectares, employ over 8000 people, and produce more than 500 GWh of electricity and 200,000 tonnes of fruit and vegetables each year; for facilities of that size, economies of scale are expected to significantly reduce costs. The Sahara Forest Project intends to make itself an employer of choice and will take measures to create truly good jobs. The Sahara Forest Project aims to create local jobs for local people as well as being an attractive work place for the larger region.
Further expansion could dot the central Wadi Araba with oases and bring SFP facilities all the way to the Dead Sea in the north. Looking to the very long term, it may be possible to bring very large SFP facilities on the scale of tens of thousands of hectares to the eastern desert. This study demonstrates the great potential for the Sahara Forest Project’s unique system for creating value in Jordan through the production of food, water and energy in an integrated system removing CO2 from the atmosphere, and presents a roadmap for realising that potential.
The RSDSP and JRSP share the common aim of connecting the Red Sea to the Dead Sea by pumping seawater up to the high point of the Wadi Araba and then allowing it to descend through hydro-electric power stations and desalination plants.
The key technical synergies between the Sahara Forest Project and the two Red Sea – Dead Sea connection schemes are in summary as follows:
1) The SFP concept can make use of water in the brine that has been rejected from the reverse osmosis plants. The brine can be used to cool greenhouses, to create cooler external spaces for agriculture and cool concentrated solar power plants. This will reduce the influx of dilute brines into the Dead Sea and maintain a closer chemical balance.
2) By reducing the volume of discharged brine, the Sahara Forest Project will extend the operational life of the RSDSP/JRSP. Rather than having to scale back seawater flow and freshwater supplies from 2060 onwards, the combination of the Sahara Forest Project and the RSDSP/JRSP could continue supplying freshwater for many decades longer.
3) A key element of the Sahara Forest Project is solar power generation. The nature of the Red Sea – Dead Sea conveyor is particularly well suited to deal with the day/night periodicity of solar power. The Sahara Forest Project works most effectively in areas with very low humidity which are generally a long distance inland. The RSDSP/JRSP will supply saltwater to an area extremely well suited to the restorative aims of the project.
4) Greater quantities of water can be evaporated from the various projects such that more hydropower can be produced.
The key conclusions of the report are as follows:
The recommended site for the Sahara Forest Project Test and Demonstration Center, located to the north of Aqaba airport at the southern end of the Wadi Araba, has been evaluated for its suitability. Analysis of information on solar radiation, temperature, humidity, precipitation, wind, geomorphology, soils, hydrology, ecology, seawater temperature, salinity, and access to seawater indicate that the site is very well suited to hosting a Sahara Forest Project facility.
The Wadi Araba is one of the more ecologically diverse and pristine regions in Jordan, but the southern part of it, in which the proposed site for the Test and Demonstration Center is located, is significantly disturbed by human activity and overgrazing. Its ecosystem will therefore particularly benefit from the revegetative aspects of the project. In addition, the establishment of the SFP Test and Demonstration Center will create economic and social opportunities through employment and competence building.
The SFP saltwater cooled greenhouses will provide excellent growing conditions for highvalue produce throughout the year in the Wadi Araba. Moreover, they can be successfully operated without tapping into existing freshwater resources and, combined with solar energy, produce high yields of high-value crops without the use of fossil fuels. In combination with a saltwater cooling infrastructure, CSP can provide much-needed domestic energy production at competitive prices. While a full environmental impact assessment is a prerequisite for the establishment of a Sahara Forest Project Test and Demonstration Center, there are considerable opportunities for the facility to provide beneficial ecosystem services.
The study has demonstrated the feasibility of establishing a unique system in Aqaba for creating value through the production of food, water and energy in an integrated system removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Additionally the proposed site offers very favourable climatic and topographic conditions suited to the technological system of the Sahara Forest Project. Taken together with the nation’s need for innovative technological solutions to protect the independence and security of its energy, water and food resources, this makes a strong case for moving ahead to the establishment of a Sahara Forest Project Test and Demonstration Center in Aqaba.
The Sahara Forest Project Test and Demonstration Center in Jordan will be located approximately 15 km inland and at an elevation of about 40 m above sea level. It will be supplied with seawater through a seawater pipeline running along the border with Israel, and be located to the north of Aqaba airport, at the southern end of Wadi Araba.
It will be 20 hectares in size, but be designed to allow easy expansion to a 200-ha commercial facility using the same seawater pipeline.
The center will be of a sufficient scale to prove the commercial viability of the Sahara Forest Project concept and it will produce a wide range of crops and energy output. An important part of the Test and Demonstration Center will be to further develop the already verified technologies to optimise resource use and productivity.
By bringing together local entrepreneurs, scientists, business and other key players in green innovation, The Sahara Forest Project Test and Demonstration Center will be a platform for research, innovation and training for the local and national community, pursuing sustainable solutions to the food, water and energy challenges.