A tip o' the hat to Al Fin for writing about this very interesting report in the Los Angeles Times about the work and vision of Carl Hodges.
The Earth's ice sheets are melting fast. Scientists predict that rising seas could swallow some low-lying areas, displacing millions of people.
Hodges sees opportunity. Why not divert the flow inland to create wealth and jobs instead of catastrophe?
He wants to channel the ocean into man-made "rivers" to nourish commercial aquaculture operations, mangrove forests and crops that produce food and fuel. This greening of desert coastlines, he said, could add millions of acres of productive farmland and sequester vast quantities of carbon dioxide, the primary culprit in global warming. Hodges contends that it could also neutralize sea-level rise, in part by using exhausted freshwater aquifers as gigantic natural storage tanks for ocean water.
Analyzing recent projections of ice melt occurring in the Antarctic and Greenland, Hodges calculates that diverting the equivalent of three Mississippi Rivers inland would do the trick. He figures that would require 50 good-sized seawater farms that could be built within a decade if the world gets cracking.
. . .
Hodges has already built such a farm in Africa. Political upheaval there shut much of it down in 2003. That's why he's determined to construct a showcase project in North America to demonstrate what's possible.
All he needs now is $35 million. That's where salicornia comes in.
A so-called halophyte, or salt-loving plant, the briny succulent thrives in hellish heat and pitiful soil on little more than a regular dousing of ocean water. Several countries are experimenting with salicornia and other saltwater-tolerant species as sources of food. Known in some restaurants as sea asparagus, salicornia can be eaten fresh or steamed, squeezed into cooking oil or ground into high-protein meal.
... salicornia has another nifty quality: It can be converted into biofuel. And, unlike grain-based ethanol, it doesn't need rain or prime farmland, and it doesn't distort global food markets. NASA has estimated that halophytes planted over an area the size of the Sahara Desert could supply more than 90% of the world's energy needs.
Last year, Hodges formed a for-profit company called Global Seawater Inc. to produce salicornia biofuel in liquid and solid versions. He lugs samples of it around in a suitcase like some environmental traveling salesman.
The enterprise recently planted 1,000 acres of salicornia here in rural Sonora, where Hodges has been doing preparatory research for decades. That crop will provide seed for a major venture planned 50 miles north in the coastal city of Bahia de Kino. Global Seawater is attempting to lease or buy 12,000 acres there for what it envisions will be the world's largest seawater farm.
The plan is to cut an ocean canal into the desert to nourish commercial ponds of shrimp and fish. Instead of dumping the effluent back into the ocean, the company would channel it further inland to fertilize fields of salicornia for biofuel. The seawater's next stop would be man-made wetlands. These mangrove forests could be "sold" to polluters to meet emissions cuts mandated by the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
"Nothing is wasted," Hodges said.
This sounds really interesting, and really promising. Just think: absorbing all that extra sea-water, farming for fish products that'll provide low-cost protein, then using the waste and runoff to produce biofuels. Three problems addressed in a single project - not to mention alleviating unemployment in the areas where the farms are sited.
More power to you, Mr. Hodges, and good luck! I think Al Fin had the right idea when he concluded:
You have to admire folks who single-mindedly pursue solutions to important problems. Quite unlike the whiners who populate most university department faculties--especially the social sciences and liberal arts.