The overall financial performance of any individual SFP implementation is dependent on a complex series of variables, very much linked to the choice of location and current macroeconomic conditions. The competitiveness – and consequently the value – of the project’s outputs is directly linked to the current assessment of prevailing alternative cost of primary input factors (i.e. fresh water, fertile land) and demand/market values of the outputs (i.e. vegetables, energy). Furthermore, the alternative of resources such as freshwater is subsequently dependent on the local authorities’ willingness to discount future scarcity into today’s cost of extracted freshwater.
As such, there will be no generic formula for the value of a Sahara Forest Project. The concept as such has a financially robust baseline due to the cost-saving synergies that occur in the intersection of technologies that individually exist today and produce commercially viable products. The integration of technologies as demonstrated by the Sahara Forest Project addresses certain elements of the technologies that cause challenges on a stand-alone basis and reduce the investments and operating costs that otherwise are obstacles to the technology’s success. Consequently, a full-scale commercial Sahara Forest Project will improve the competitiveness of existing solutions. Moreover, the already skewed supply/demand balance addressed by the Sahara Forest Project will steeply increase its disproportionate distance between demand for food, energy and arable land and the scarcity of key elements limiting supply of the same.
The freshwater supply to areas that otherwise would be ideally situated for growing fresh produce is even today under substantial strain; aquifers are becoming depleted and wells are turning salty. We see this as proof that restorative production of scarce resources in a saltwater infrastructure is not only the right thing to do; it is also necessarily good business because the SFP concept allows us to generate the resources at a lower cost than other stand-alone technologies currently available as alternatives to extractive resource generation. The Sahara Forest Project will be rolled out along three main commercial approach models. The three models differ in terms of targeted participants, operational objectives and character of returns. These key characteristics of the models are explained in the following.
The Test and Demonstration Center
A Sahara Forest Project Test and Demonstration Center will be of a sufficient scale to prove the commercial viability of the Sahara Forest Project concept and it will produce a wide range of crops and energy output. A Test and Demonstration Center is established as a key technology hub with a three-part purpose. One major objective is the physical verification and optimization of operability and synergies between core technologies in a given setting (geology, climate, altitude etc.). Second, the Test and Demonstration Center will be of a sufficient size to verify that the core model may be scaled to commercially profitable levels – again given the constraints and opportunity of the local and macroeconomic environment. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, The Sahara Forest Project Test and Demonstration Center will be a platform for research, innovation and training for sustainable solutions to the food, water and energy challenges. The Test and Demonstration Center will function as a shared innovation platform by bringing together international and local entrepreneurs, scientists, business and other stakeholders in green innovation.
At the Test and Demonstration Center, space will be provided for the testing and integration of emerging environmental technology components at the intersection of the Sahara Forest Project’s saltwater infrastructure and core technologies – thereby providing a haven for trials and commercialization of concepts not easily tested elsewhere.
In the first phase of operation a T&DC will lay the foundations for the later commercial roll-out of the project in the region through technology optimization and extensive field trials. The T&DC will also provide a unique platform for innovation, knowledge transfer and research into arid agriculture and integrative technologies attracting both leading international and national researchers and technology providers. Local communities will benefit directly through employment and educational opportunities at the facility, and local ecosystems will benefit from the protection and restoration of threatened flora, as well as from reduced pressure from grazing and fuel gathering.
The Oasis is the full-scale commercial implementation of the Sahara Forest Project. It will contain greenhouses, cultivated outdoor vegetation and CSP as primary output-generating units. Dependent on the project participants and local needs and conditions, the outputs may be supplemented through other related add-on technologies. This could typically be related to the production and refinement of cultivated microalgae (biomass, fuels, biogas) and other mariculture components.
Furthermore, the overall output equation of the Oasis will be impacted by the desired focus. Within the established ‘operating window’ of an oasis, the focus may be oriented toward maximising food, energy or water outputs – thereby aligning with the required demands and economies as imposed by the local communities. The business model of an oasis is straightforward. One main operator – typically a party with strong interest within one or more of the core technologies/ outputs – will front the Oasis project as the main project owner. Operators of other/minor technology elements may be added either as subcontractors or joint venture participants.
The third pillar of the SFP concept is the Farming Community. This is in principle no different from the Oasis model, but with one fundamental change to the structural set-up. The Farming Community would hold a centrally financed infrastructure rented to local small-scale farmers who thereby create new local enterprise. A Farming Community Fund would be made available to local participants at microfinance principles. In the case of the Farming Community, the large participants would consequently not participate with direct equity ownership, but through making the finances available in the Farming Community Fund.