“We´re going to make the desert in Qatar green!”

Publish date: June 16, 2011

PRESS RELEASE: Fertilizer companies contribute to growth of Sahara Forest Project. The Sahara Forest Projects enters into cooperation with Yara, the world largest supplier of fertilizer and the Qatari company Qafco, the world’s largest single site producer of urea and ammonia.

A Memorandum of Understanding for establishing The Sahara Forest Project in Qatar has been signed by Managing Director Khalifa Abdulla Al-Sowaidi of Qafco, CEO Jørgen Ole Haslestad of Yara ASA and CEO Joakim Hauge of The Sahara Forest Project AS.

The news is presented today, at the Bellona conference “The Future is Carbon Negative” in Oslo, Norway.


The ambition for the Sahara Forest Project is to move away from an extractive use of resources towards restorative growth and from the fossil fuel age to the renewable age.

By combining different existing technologies into one integrated system the project uses what we have enough of to produce what we need more of. This is made possible by utilizing sunlight, deserts and seawater to produce food, water and energy.


“The agreement with Yara and Qafco constitute a major step towards the realization of The Sahara Forest Project. Yara and Qafco represent world-leading competence in industrialization of new solutions as well as in the very relevant field of fertilizers. We are therefore really looking forward to working together with Qafco and Yara to realize The Sahara Forest Project in Qatar. We´re going to make the desert in Qatar green”, states CEO of The Sahara Forest Project, Joakim Hauge.

“The world has to produce more food, but with lower greenhouse gas emissions and more efficient use of water, soil and fertilizer. This is a truly visionary project closely tied to what we are working on, that seeks to contribute in solving some of the most demanding challenges the world is facing”, states CEO of Yara International, Ole Jørgen Haslestad.

“We aim to be a catalyst in bringing this project from the drawing board to a test site on the ground. Our contribution is our nutrient knowledge and industrial experience”, continues Mr. Haslestad.

Dr. Dan Kammen, Chief Technical Specialist for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency at The World Bank also comments on the agreement: “SFP is a pioneering project that reflects the kind of holistic vision and solution that we need to explore so that we can address the interconnected challenges of food, water and energy security.  It is about optimizing the whole system rather than maximizing one goal.  As a result, I am very pleased to see the Qatar project launch because it shows the project’s potential for commercial partnerships to address environmental and social needs”


The first step of the cooperation is for The Sahara Forest Project AS to conduct a comprehensive feasibility study in Qatar. Yara and Qafco are committed to provide financial, knowledge and technical support to the Sahara Forest Project AS in these studies. Yara and Qafco will, among other things, contribute scientifically on how to create an environmentally friendly fertilizer as well as a fertilizer for use in desert areas.

The feasibility studies have an estimated cost of 4.1 million NOK. Additionally Yara has provided 2.1 million NOK in general support to the SFP Foundation.


The next step will be to establish The Sahara Forest Project in Qatar through a joint venture for constructing a Test and Demonstration Centre.

Following the signing of the MoU, little time has been wasted and the work on the studies is already well on its way. The landscape of Qatar consists mainly of relatively flat and low-lying arid land. The climate is characterized by very high seasonal peaks in temperature and humidity. These conditions combined with little freshwater resources pose a real challenge to agricultural activity. The parties are therefore also in the process of preparing the construction of a local calibration station at the Qafco facilities in Qatar to provide accurate measurements of how the technology best can be optimized to local conditions. 

“The Sahara Forest Project has reached major milestones in the short time since the first feasibility study was presented about one and a half years ago. Approaching the intersection between water, food and energy challenges with innovative green technology sparks a true interest both with politicians, academics and leading industrialists. We will continue to build on this unique momentum”, says CEO of The Sahara Forest Project, Joakim Hauge.



For further information or inquires please contact:

Joakim Hauge

CEO of The Sahara Forest Project


Mobile: +47 40 85 61 90

For Yara:

Asle Skredderberget

Vice President Corporate Communications


Mobile: +47 41 44 36 10

Additional material is electronically available upon request:


  • – Quotes about The Sahara Forest Project from high-level politicians and decision makers
  • – The Sahara Forest Project described in 10 sentences
  • – The Impact Potential of The Sahara Forest Project – A scenario towards 2050


  • – An artistic impression of how The Sahara Forest Project Demonstration Center might look like
  • – The Sahara Forest Project logo
  • – Portraits and group photo of The Sahara Forest Project owners and management


The production of key resources, such as clean water, clean energy and a sustainable production of food represents some of our time’s greatest challenges. The Sahara Forest Project is a new environmental solution that provides a holistic approach to tackle these challenges. The Sahara Forest Project has a vision of creating re-vegetation and green jobs through profitable production of food, water, clean electricity and biomass in desert areas, by combining already existing and proven environmental technologies, such as evaporation of seawater to create cooling and distilled fresh water (i.e. in a saltwater based greenhouse) and solar thermal technologies.

The Project has been well received by among others Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister and UN Special Envoy on Climate Change, and Olav Kjørven, Deputy Secretary of UNDP. The EU’s Commissioner for Development, Mr Andris Piebalgs has stated that “The Sahara Forest Project appears to be a very interesting example of the more integrated and holistic kind of thinking that we will need a lot more of in the future to make our energy, water and industrial systems more sustainable.”

The Sahara Forest Project has been presented in a number of leading publications including Science, National Geographic, TIME Magazine, The Telegraph and The Guardian.


The announcement of Sahara Forest Project cooperation in Qatar follows only months after it was made public that a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority and The Sahara Forest Project AS in Amman, Jordan.

This agreement committed Sahara Forest Project to conducting three comprehensive studies in Jordan financed and supported by Norwegian authorities. The MoU also includes that the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority will facilitate 20 ha for a Demonstration Centre and 200 ha for possible later expansion.


The Sahara Forest Project proposes to establish a range of interconnected economic activities in different low lying desert areas based around a pipeline that will create an infrastructure for seawater. The seawater is used to condition the desert air in a greenhouse to create ideal growing conditions. The evaporation cools the dry air dramatically and the high humidity reduces the need for freshwater for irrigation of the high value plants being grown inside. Some of the water vapor in the greenhouse will condense on cold surfaces such as the roof at night to provide the necessary freshwater for the crop. 

The water vapor that leaves from the downwind side of the greenhouse adds moisture to the surrounding environment. This moisture has proven to have considerable potential for aiding re-vegetation of the surrounding environment outside the greenhouses.

With a profitable way of bringing salt water into a desert, a range of other opportunities is opened up. This includes inland cultivation of fish or algae, which is a promising fast growing and sustainable kind of biomass.


The most interesting synergies arise when the saltwater infrastructure is combined with Concentrated Solar Power (CSP). CSP is widely considered as one of the renewable energy technologies with the highest potential for rapid deployment and impact on the global energy mix. CSP systems use mirrors to concentrate the energy from the sun and create very high temperatures which produce superheated steam that can power a conventional steam turbine.

As with all thermal power plants the greatest efficiency is achieved by having the hottest steam and the coldest condenser temperature. In the past these systems have used fresh water to provide the necessary cooling, which often is not sustainable in an arid environment. Dry air coolers can reduce the amount of water needed, but at a cost of reduced power production (up to 10 %). The Sahara Forest Project proposes to combine CSP facilities with a saltwater infrastructure to achieve highly beneficial synergies:

  • Saltwater can be used for cooling of CSP, increasing the power production.
  • Both the new outside vegetation and the greenhouse structures will provide dust arresting. The outside vegetation will also stabilize ground conditions. Less dust in a CSP-field means more sun reaching the mirrors and less dust settling on the reflecting surfaces.
  • Freshwater from the greenhouse facilities can be used for cleaning of the mirrors.
  • Electricity from the CSP-facility can be used for running pumps and greenhouse equipment.
  • The waste heat from the CSP-facility can be used for evaporating more water vapor from seawater that can be distilled back into fresh water. 

In contrast to most traditional desalinization industry The Sahara Forest Project operates without emissions of brine back to the sea. As the water is evaporated from salt water the salinity increases to the point that the salts precipitate out from the brine. The extraction of the minerals from seawater is an alternative to mining them from the ground.  The largest component is table salt [NaCl] that has many uses and has a value as an industrial feedstock. The more valuable salts in seawater occur at lower concentrations and extracting them commercially becomes viable if a sufficient quantity of seawater is used.


Yara International ASA is the world’s leading chemical company that converts energy, natural minerals and nitrogen from the air into essential products for farmers and industrial customers. Today, Yara’s global workforce of more than 7300 employees represents a great diversity and knowledge that enables Yara to remain a leading performer in the industry. The company has a global presence with operations and offices in more than 50 countries and sales to more than 150 countries. In 2010 Yara had total revenue of NOK 65.4 billion.  

Qafco is a key producer and exporter of ammonia and urea based fertilizer to the international market. Qafco was founded in 1969 and is now owned by Industries Qatar (75%) and Yara International ASA (25%). Through scientific strategic plans and integration of the latest technologies, QAFCO has emerged as the world’s largest single site producer of urea and ammonia with an annual production capacity of 2 million tons of ammonia and 2 million tons of urea.

The Sahara Forest Project AS is a Norwegian private limited liability company. The shareholders are Michael Pawlyn, Bill Watts and Bellona Holding AS. The purpose of the SFP AS is to create profitable innovation and development of environmental solutions within the food, water and energy sector. This is achieved by bringing The Sahara Forest Project technology to the market in relevant countries .The Sahara Forest Project AS is operating under the Ethical Guidelines for commercial initiatives set out by The Sahara Forest Foundation.

The Sahara Forest Project Foundation has been established to facilitate and promote research, knowledge and the use of technologies which enable revegetation and the creation of new jobs through the profitable production of food, water, biomass and electricity. The SFP Foundation has established Ethical Guidelines that all commercial Sahara Forest Project Initiatives must adhere to.

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