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Irrigation with seawater

The new system will enable people without access to fresh water to irrigate their crops (© FAO/Olivier Asselin)
The new system will enable people without access to fresh water to irrigate their crops
© FAO/Olivier Asselin

A new system which allows food crops to be irrigated with seawater will solve global problems of food production, according to researchers at the University of Surrey, UK. "97.5% of the world's water is salty and not usable for the great majority of agriculture," says Professor Adel Sharif, team leader. "With this approach, there is no need for investment in genetically modified crops or ongoing treatments for the soil. The technology will be accessible and will genuinely solve the problem for people without access to fresh water for agriculture."

The low-cost solution, which makes seawater irrigation on a large scale a realistic and sustainable solution to food supply problems, does not require high pressure pumps or expensive distillation units. Instead, the new approach makes use of the natural process of evaporation alongside a membrane designed to retain the impurities in the water, including the salts, allowing only pure water to reach the plants.

The project has built on Professor Sharif's work on Manipulated Osmosis Desalination (MOD), which is used in Gibraltar and Oman to produce drinking water for human consumption. MOD is currently the leading technology for desalination, reducing energy use by up to 30 per cent compared to conventional desalination plants, chemical consumption and the carbon footprint.

From water rights and desalination treatment processes to community-scale sustainable technology, the University team is continuing to work alongside governments and disaster relief NGOs worldwide to improve water for drinking, sanitation and agriculture.

Date published: January 2012

 

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