In a groundbreaking initiative, scientists at the University of South Australia have introduced a pioneering solution to address the critical issues of freshwater scarcity and food production. Their innovative concept involves vertical sea farms floating on the vast expanse of the ocean, utilizing the abundant and cost-free resources of the sun and the sea.

The research, led by Professor Haolan Xu and Dr. Gary Owens from the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute, unveils the vertical floating sea farm—a self-sufficient system powered by solar energy. This remarkable system transforms seawater into freshwater and cultivates crops without requiring any human intervention, offering a potential solution to the impending global crises of dwindling freshwater supplies and insufficient food production.

Operating similarly to a wicking bed familiar to household gardeners, the vertical sea farm incorporates solar evaporators to draw in seawater and capture salts. Under the intense sun, these devices release purified water vapor into the atmosphere. The vapor condenses on water belts and is transported to the upper plant growth chamber. In a real-world demonstration, the researchers successfully cultivated vegetables, including broccoli, lettuce, and bok choy, entirely using seawater surfaces, without human intervention or additional freshwater irrigation.

One of the distinguishing features of their solar-powered sea farm is the strategic positioning of evaporators outside the growth chamber, optimizing space and minimizing the risk of overheating. Unlike other energy-intensive floating farm designs using traditional photovoltaic panels, this vertical arrangement offers a smaller footprint, making it more cost-effective and efficient.

The fully automated and user-friendly system serves as a proof-of-concept, with plans to scale up by deploying clusters of individual devices to boost plant production. The team aims to enhance the prototype’s capability by incorporating cost-effective materials like waste rice straw fiber, further advancing sustainability.

With 2.4 billion individuals predicted to face water scarcity by 2050, this innovative approach taps into the abundant resource of the world’s oceans, which hold 97.5 percent of the planet’s water. Combining the sea and the sun to combat global water and food shortages presents a practical and evident solution with the potential to enhance the well-being of billions worldwide.

By Impact Lab