Green, Science, Sustainability

New Technology Allows Crops to Grow in a Desert

Sundrop Farms’ new facility in Port Augusta, Australia measures 20 hectares and enables the production of high-quality produce in harsh climates with degraded land.
Sundrop Farms’ new facility in Port Augusta, Australia measures 20 hectares and enables the production of high-quality produce in harsh climates with degraded land. Photo: Sundrop Farms.

A new kind of farming technology is making a tomato farm flourish in one of earth’s most arid places: the South Australian desert, a place with little usable land and no sources of freshwater at all. However, a new, super solar-powered boiler has been installed at a farm belonging to Sundrop Farms, receiving energy from the sun through a whopping 23,000 mirrors. The plant can process 2.8 million liters of seawater every day, using the steam to clean the air, and the water to raise some happy tomatoes.

The farm, made possible by a $100 million donation from Henry Kravis and KKR, is intended to help boost tomato production in the desert area north of Port Augusta in Australia. The funding comes with a new 10-year contract with Coles, a supermarket, which has agreed to buy the tomatoes, ensuring that the investment remains solid and productive.

KKR’s investment joins others from the South Australian government. Because of these investments, Sundrop Farms believes it will be able to expand and create 300 new jobs.

Greenhouses associated with the farm will grow more than 15,000 tons of sustainably-grown tomatoes a year, and the demand for that kind of produce is expected to grow by 15-25 percent over the next year. The amount of produce the desert farm generates would significantly ease the added pressure on the market and, hopefully, keep the costs of tomatoes low for consumers.

When construction is finished on the farm later this year, it will span about 50 acres. It will also boast a fancy refrigeration system that can chill steam from 35 Celsius to 18 Celsius quickly, using an environmentally-friendly form of ammonia that has “zero global warming potential,” according to Cold Logic, the firm that created it.

The new crop system “opens up new ways of producing crops out of very arid lands,” said Eddie Lane, a partner at Cold Logic. “It’s groundbreaking technology, and there’s been a lot of international interest from places like the Middle East.”

The solar farm does represent a lot of possible new opportunities in farming and food production. If land that could not ordinarily produce crops can be made to do so, we could come a long way in the fight against food scarcity, poor nutrition, and starvation around the world.

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Environmental Hazards, Science, Uncategorized

Radioactive Pollution From Fukishima Is Nearing The United States

 NASA satellite photo of Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture after being struck by a tsunami, since the incident in 2011 seawater contaminated with Cesium-134 has been moving closer to the United States.
NASA satellite photo of Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture after being struck by a tsunami, since the incident in 2011 seawater contaminated with Cesium-134 has been moving closer to the United States. Photo: NASA | FlickrCC.

In 2011 a tsunami caused by an earthquake hit the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan, resulting in three reactor meltdowns. Since then, scientists have been testing water in the Pacific Ocean at various distances from the site to determine what kind of contaminants have escaped from the site. The bad news is that contaminants keep entering the ocean from Fukushima, but the good news is that those levels are far lower than they were just after the event.

Cesium-134 is an isotope that acts as a sort of “fingerprint” for Fukushima, and finding it in water means provides the geographical sources for those particular isotopes. Cesium-134 has a half life of two years, meaning that every two years half of it decays, so based on the amount in a given body, scientists can tell how long it’s been there.

Lately, measurements have indicated that levels of Cesium-134 are elevated in water as close to the United States as 1,600 miles west of San Francisco. These samples have 50% more Cesium than previous samples, but those levels are still 500 times lower than safety limits for drinking water, and well below the levels where direct exposure is dangerous.

This information, coupled with samples taken from a kilometer from the site, indicates that Cesium-134 is still leaking out and getting into the water, but it can also allow scientists to figure out how much material actually made it into the ocean in the first place.

An interesting side effect too is that, since these isotopes can only have come from Fukushima, researchers can use them as markers to track how water moves though the Pacific Ocean. That could prove pretty useful for oceanographers, and it’s nice to know that there is at least some small benefit from that disaster.