Sunlight and seawater are at the heart of a revolutionary experiment in food production that is nearing full commercial production in the South Australian city of Port Augusta, which sits on the edge of one of Australia's driest regions.
The venture, known as Sundrop Farms, is using concentrated solar power and seawater to create the heat, electricity and desalinated water needed to feed and power its greenhouse-grown crops.
After four years of testing this technology on a pilot site just outside the city, Sundrop Farms is embarking on an 150 million Australian dollar ($117 million) expansion that aims to lift annual output a hundredfold to 15,000 tons of picture-perfect, pesticide-free, hydroponically grown tomatoes.
If Sundrop Farms hits its production targets when the expansion is completed next year, its backers – including U.S. private equity giant KKR & Co. — believe the project and its technology could become a template for similar ventures in the Middle East and other arid regions around the world.
That would be a big step towards easing the water and food security issues found in many arid areas.
Port Augusta lies about 320km north of the South Australian state capital Adelaide. For crop production, this puts it on the wrong side of "Goyder's Line," the boundary created 150 years ago by the state government's surveyor-general, George Goyder, to delineate farmland from grazing land.
After severe drought in the 1860s brought hardship to farmers still coming to terms with the vagaries of the Australian climate, Goyder determined that a rain line of about 300 mm a year should be the marker between crop land and land for grazing livestock.
With just 250 mm of annual rainfall, Port Augusta and its surrounding saltbush plains are firmly in the grazing category. In fact, the project's land is classed as "degraded pasture."
But with about A$100 million in growth capital from KKR, Sundrop Farms founder and former Goldman Sachs banker Philipp Saumweber is confident the Port Augusta expansion will succeed. "Sundrop Farms is the world's first commercially and environmentally sustainable arid-climate agriculture business," he said on Dec. 4, when KKR announced its investment.
According to asia.nikkei