The 10,000-square-metre site works by exploiting the difference in temperature between surface seawater and water taken from hundreds of metres below the surface.
Using solar power, these are both pumped to the site through separate pipes. The hot desert air is used to evaporate the warm surface water as it flows over “evaporative hedges” at one side of the greenhouse.
This now cooled, moist air passes over the plants creating a comfortable temperature around them, and then condenses as it passes pipes through which the cold deep seawater is pumped, creating fresh water.
The idea was inspired by the way a camel’s nostrils evaporates and condenses moisture to keep it cool, says Michael Pawlyn, a biomimicry architect who is working on the project.
If the project works, then other such greenhouses could be launched across the region.