Sahara Solar Breeder Project Would Power World With Sand

Sand as the solution to the world's energy woes? Or, more precisely, silica? The Sahara Solar Breeder Project is a plan by universities in Japan and Algeria to provide 50 percent of the world's electricity by 2050.
How? By building manufacturing plants across the Sahara Desert that would extract silica from sand to make solar panels. The facilities would then be used to build solar power plants. And so on and so on, until the breeding strategy can deliver 100 gigawatts of electricity.

Is it a great big idea? Sure. Will it work? Time will tell.

The Sahara Solar Breeder Project would take advantage of all the silica and sunlight found in the North Africa desert. One snag: The technology for transforming desert sand into silicon and then solar cells doesn't exist yet. Also just a concept: The supergrid that would connect the desert to the world, requiring liquid-nitrogen cooled cables buried deep underground.

Project leader Hideomi Koinuma calls the venture the Super Apollo Project, after the Greek god of light and sun, and the NASA mission that put a man on the moon.

The universities plan to spend about $2 million U.S. on the research over five years, in hopes that the technology will be embraced by developers and used to build the project.

photo sahara desert sun

Photo Credit: Cliff Williams

(Trivia moment: The Sahara is the world's second-largest desert. The largest desert is Antarctica, which qualifies due to its low precipitation.)

Will this Sahara project ever see the light of day? Is the Sahara desert the best place for manufacturing plants? Why not just export the panels to where they're needed, rather than constructing a supergrid to carry the power?

In this case, we still have a long way to go toward weaning the world off of fossil-fueled electricity. Then again, research like this could change the game. Europe is already planning to tap into the Sahara for solar electricity with a Desertec project, as previously reported by TreeHugger's Matthew McDermott.

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