By using the almost limitless source of oceanwater, we look at the world as a place of abundance, rather than scarcity.
The world is in the midst of a fresh water crisis. It is time to seriously address this issue. It is an integral part of the Water-Energy-Food-Climate Nexus. Our focus on using oceanwater opens up new ways to grow food and fodder, as well as produce energy and address the challenges of climate change.
For nearly 50 years our Seawater Works team of scientists, farmers, engineers and social scientists has been developing oceanwater alternatives to using freshwater as the means for producing food, fodder and purposeful livelihoods.
Seawater Works is the brainchild of Arthur Gensler, Founder of the world's largest design and architectural firm, and Carl Hodges, Founding Director of the Environmental Research Laboratory at the University of Arizona and Founder of the Seawater Foundation.
Arthur Gensler founded Gensler, the global architecture, design, planning and strategic consulting firm in 1965. From an office of three people in San Francisco, the firm has grown into one of the world’s leading architecture and design groups, with 5,000 people in 46 global locations. Gensler teams provide expertise in 20 practice areas – including workplace, retail, hospitality, education, brand design, and aviation & transportation – to international clients that span a wide range of industries. The firm is known for their design of many iconic interior and architectural projects around the globe, such as the Shanghai Tower, which will be the second tallest building in the world when completed. The reputation Gensler has secured as a model for the architectural profession in this new century led to its being named the American Institute of Architects’ Architectural Firm of the Year for 2000. Gensler is recognized as the #1 Architectural Firm in the country and for the past 30 consecutive years has been selected as the Most Admired Firm by its industry peers.
An architect by profession, Arthur Gensler is a graduate of Cornell University, which named him “Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year” in 1995. He currently serves on the Advisory Council of Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning. He has been a Visiting Professor at Cornell, the University of California at Berkeley, and Arizona State University. He is also a Trustee of the Buck Institute for Aging, the California College of the Arts, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
A founding member of the National AIA Committee on Interior Architecture, Mr. Gensler was elected to Fellowship in the American Institute of Architects in 1980. A Fellow of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA), he received with the organization’s prestigious Star Award in 1992 in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the contract design industry. He is a charter member of Interior Design Magazine’s Hall of Fame, which recognizes individuals making outstanding contributions in the field of interior design. In 2009, Gensler was the first design firm to ever be inducted as a firm into the Hall of Fame.
Founding Director of the Environmental Research Laboratory of the University of Arizona, Founder and Chairman of the Seawater Foundation is an internationally known scientist and generator of new ideas. An atmospheric physicist and mathematician, the proof of his work was seen in Seawater Farms Eritrea (SFE), an integrated agricultural and aquacultural farm in Africa. Leading to this achievement, has been a history of controlled environmental agriculture in the Middle East and the Americas, the Land Pavilion at EPCOT Center at Walt Disney World in Florida, initial scientific consultant on Biosphere 2 and many associations with corporations such as Coca Cola, Disney, Kraft Foods, W.R. Grace, Lufthansa, and Magnolia Quality Development Group. The replication of SFE and further advancement of the integrated seawater farm systems will give the planet the first new agriculture in 10,000 years. Oceanwater Agriculture and Seawater Works provide purposeful jobs and added solutions to the water-energy-food-climate nexus that faces the world.
We have begun to provide solutions to the Water-Energy-Food-Climate Nexus at ASU's Polytech Campus in Mesa, AZ. There at the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation (AzCATI) we are utilizing our Salicornia Genetic Asset (SGA) as the first crop for Oceanwater Irrigated Agriculture (OIA) Research and Development.
We have developed, and proposed to the State of California, and, in Mexico, the states of Baja California and Sonora, an "Oceanwater Corridor" solution to bring ocean water from the Gulf of California to the Salton Sea using our Oceanwater Technologies to address an environmental challenge that threatens the desert communities of Northern Mexico and Southern California. Click here to download the proposal.
From earliest humans using flint to light a fire, we have been looking for abundant, efficient, affordable and clean energy sources. We burned wood and depleted our forests. We discovered coal and oil and polluted our air. We harnessed rivers and destroyed habitat. We captured the power of the atom and still have not figured out how to manage its waste. Natural gas is a good transition fuel and we can unlock more with fracking, but that may cause earthquakes. We utilize wind turbines and kill birds. We convert sunshine but depend on rare metals. Each of these advances brought great economic growth and enhanced our lives. Each has merit. And each has drawbacks. Natural resources and economics offer restraints. We have enough fossil fuels to burn until we choke ourselves to death. We are threatening our atmosphere and our oceans with what may be humankind’s most serious challenge – one that may challenge our very existence.
Our search for abundant, efficient, affordable and clean energy sources has been a reflection of our creativity, innovation, ingenuity, and survival skill. We have used our genius to advance civilization and make people’s lives better. Each technological advance has been controversial and left earlier technologies in the dust. The buggy whip manufacturer was perplexed why his fine buggy whips were not in demand as we moved from horses to internal combustion engines. The coal companies are using their abundant wealth and power to perpetuate their industry. We have to break this cycle.
Now we need the next big leap, the next breakthrough. We need to learn from our collective wisdom. My good friend, brilliant scholar and Atmospheric Physicist, Carl Hodges, has built on his 40 years of research and practical applications to develop a concept that combines the best of solar, wind and photosynthesis. He has used his extensive experience with aquaculture and growing robust forms of the halophyte, Salicornia that can produce food, fuel and fodder. But, the new ingredient he has added, the new secret sauce that can transform our energy production, economy and environment, is one that has been hiding before our eyes: evaporation and the energy of stored salt.
Not only does it offer plants, sunshine, wind, rivers and tides – but it has been working for some billion years to store salts. According to a 1980 Science article, there are 100 to 1000 times more stored solar and wind energy in salt basins than there is stored solar energy in carbon fossil fuels. That's understandable because nature was collecting solar and wind energy on the earth in salt beds 600 million years before plants arrived to use photosynthesis to collect solar energy.
Nature also created osmosis, which is the magical part of the story, that high school biology students learn in the example of how a plant raises water from the soil to its roots and into the plant. Through the miracle of osmosis, water in a less salty solution can pass through a graphene membrane into a saltier solution. That less salty solution, if given the correct pathway (such as a pipe pointed upward), will flow uphill and out of the pipe. Then, as in a natural river, gravity pulls the elevated fluid down. Install turbine generators in our human-made river and we, nature and humans together, can make electricity. Scientists call this Osmotic Power or Salinity Gradient Power (SGP), with SGP being the more common term.
Thus, through the seeming miracle of gravity and osmosis, salt (harnessed from a billion years of evaposynthesis, which has used solar and wind energy to evaporate water away from a solution to increase its salinity), can produce electricity. This may sound like magic, but it is sound science.
“Evaposynthesis?” you correctly ask. Carl has coined and developed the concept of “evaposynthesis.” It is a way nature has captured the non-carbon “fuel" stored in the salt basins of the earth. Carl has written that “evaposynthesis is the word we created for the collection of solar and wind energy by the evaporation of fresh water into the air away from an increasingly saline solution.”
Here’s the point: Photosynthesis provides renewable fuels (non-fossil) in the form of biofuels. Evaposynthesis also provides renewable fuels (non-fossil AND non-carbon) in the form of increased salinity solutions. And both evaposynthesis and photosynthesis occur as part of Carl’s new, re-imagined, vision for seawater agriculture.
Carl pioneered the idea of a fully integrated “farm” that grows Salicornia, restores mangroves, and grows fish. An example of this “farm” in Eritrea produced food, fuel and fodder. Now, Carl combines the stored power from salt in order to produce SGP (salinity gradient power). Food, fuel, fodder, and power. In a fully integrated, self- sustaining, clean process.
Carl calls this fully integrated system ENC Energy, Evaposynthesis Non-Carbon Energy. He proposes that we apply it initially to address the critical water shortage in California, particularly around the Salton Sea (with its high 55,000 parts per million salinity) and the Imperial Irrigation District. Since much of California’s fresh water goes to agriculture to produce alfalfa for cattle – and since cattle love fodder from Salicornia – an integrated seawater solution can produce a feed solution that doesn’t use precious fresh water. At the same time, we can work to restore the Salton Sea and its surrounding agriculture - and add evaposynthesis and SGP for a fully integrated power generating “farm.”
Let me try to condense a very complicated and technical story into bite-sized pieces. This is the culmination of Carl Hodges’ 40+ years of expertise and global experience. It incorporates all the pieces in a way no one else has. His vision, combined with decades of practical field experience, make this a unique and very exciting project. It has the potential to be the game-changer we have long sought. Because this may “sound too good to be true” to some, we have the technical backup that gives it the credibility it deserves.
I think we can start with four basic questions. What do we want to achieve? What are the benefits? Why are we confident this can work? What’s next?
What do we want to achieve?
-Transform appropriate agriculture to utilize salt water crops.
- Apply ENC Energy systems.
- Develop a new business model for sustainable agriculture and energy.
- Create a model that can be transferred globally.
The benefits are enormous, and each could represent a chapter of a book, but I want to offer an initial list that may show the substantial value of a project like this. They fall into three primary areas: Economic, Environmental and Global.
- Produce substantial domestic, local jobs, not only in direct agriculture but in the related value propositions of fodder, food production, bio-jet fuel and a new generation of bio-products, and power generation.
- Retain California’s agriculture and preserve its cattle industry.
- Free up fresh water for higher value uses without restraining
agriculture. Produce crops from seawater. Work with local authorities on revenues from water exchanges and reduced water transfer costs.
- Address the drought with its unpredictable water supplies and stabilize water availability, which also provides greater long-term confidence in California’s economic future.
- Produce substantial amounts of electricity as an added value - without adding carbon. Potentially benefit from carbon trading.
- Produce a carbon free energy source.
- Remove carbon from the air and return it to the soil.
- Introduce mangroves and utilize local geothermal resources to avoid freezes.
- Reduce dust and provide related environmental benefits.
- Enhance biodiversity, with flora, fauna, and, particularly around the Salton Sea, birds.
- Apply lessons globally and transfer them to strategic locations such as developing countries, arid lands, and refugee camps.
- In the long run, with some new, very interesting innovations and “big thinking,” begin to ameliorate seawater rise.
- Allow agriculture to continue to expand around the world and lead the way to a revolution in the way we produce crops that have multiple uses. "Get everything but the oink" out of every plant and every drop of water.
- Create a new business model based on the concept that "everything is a resource and nothing is waste.” Build a new global economy based on integrated, efficient and productive processes.
Why are we confident this can work? Forty years of practical experience with projects from academic research, through laboratory studies, substantial field work, including Eritrea, have provided the unique expertise of the project team. The science is sound. The economics are conservative. The multiple revenue streams are unlike any other project. The timing is right with a world looking for clean energy, revitalized agriculture and robust economic development.
What’s next? In the near term, collaborate with the Imperial Irrigation District, the State of California, the Mexican states of Sonora and Baja California as well as the Cucapah Community on an Oceanwater Corridor project from the Gulf of California to the Salton Sea. Find funding and additional partners. Build capacity with training. In the medium term, monitor and consider opportunities around the world. In the longer term, apply lessons learned and the business model throughout the world.
The 2018 Plan. Utilize funding and facilities at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona to demonstrate evaposynthesis along with oceanwater irrigated agriculture and determine the best way to communicate the multiple benefits.
Senior Fellow, US Green Building Council
Principal, Ginsberg Green Strategies LLC
Former US DOE Senior Executive