The Sahara Forest Project Is a Visionary "Do"

Sahara-desert photo

Image via Sahara Meteorite Prospecting

I recently returned from the Do Lectures in Wales, a collection of talks given by visionary people who've decided to put their ideas into action; to "do." I walked away inspired by nearly all of the lectures, but there was one lecture in particular that got my design juices flowing. It was given by Michael Pawlyn, architect and co-founder of the Sahara Forest Project.The vision of the Sahara Forest Project combines two technologies, Seawater Greenhouses and concentrated solar power, in a symbiotic way such that each enhances the other. In simple terms, Seawater Greenhouses turn saltwater into freshwater for growing crops in arid regions, producing a surplus of fresh water. Concentrated solar produces energy, of course, but needs water (to turn to steam) in order to do it. By co-locating these technologies, you can use the water the greenhouses produce to feed the solar turbines, and use the power the solar produces to run the greenhouses.

Even more interesting are the knock-on benefits. You can grow biofuel crops and food in the greenhouses, and use the extra water to reforest the immediate area and sequester carbon.

What I love about this project is the design thinking. Those of us who study nature's designs are often awestruck at the brilliance of how nature designs itself for mutual benefit, like the honeybee and the flower. But all too often, we fail to realize this same elegance in our anthropogenic designs. Here is a project that in a relatively simple way creates mutually beneficial efficiencies that increase the economic viability and the environmental benefit of the project simultaneously. It is biomimicry on an industrial scale. It's exactly this type of innovation, born of broader design intention, that will accelerate the pace of positive change we can catalyze through the things we create.

Pawlyn's talk, as well as the talk I gave on how a business can create positive social and environmental change using design, will soon be posted on the Do Lectures website. (Click on our profiles).

After the lectures, each speaker was asked to give a "big Do" and a "little Do." The little Do was something that each of us as individuals could do. The big Do was something all of us could do together.

My little Do: Think like a designer.
My big Do: Help me redefine design.

The Sahara Forest Project is a great example of re-framing design and using it to create positive benefit on a scale that no one technological solution could do alone.

Guest contributor Adam Lowry is co-founder of Method

More on the Sahara Forest Project
Incredible Sahara Forest Project to Generate Fresh Water, Solar Power and Crops in African Desert
Meet Change Maker Michael Pawlyn of Exploration Architecture
Seawater Irrigation Has a New Best's Called Stimulus Funding
More on the Do Lectures
The Do Lectures: It's Like TED In A Welsh Field
The Do Lectures 2009 - Bonfire Brands
The Do Lectures 2009 - The Axeness of An Axe
The Do Lectures 2009 - Take The First Step
The Do Lectures 2009 - Turn Off Your TV

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