SunGlacier Project Hopes to Turn Desert into Ice

By @ibtimesau on

About 6,000 to 8,000 years ago the Sahara Desert was a thriving ecosystem with rivers and abundant rainfall. Around 4,500 years ago, the region turned into the arid wasteland of today. Now a Dutch artist wants to turn this vast desert into a fertile oasis by conjuring ice from thin air.

SunGlacier was hatched from the mind of Dutch artist Ap Verheggen in collaboration with Cofely Refrigeration to create a giant, solar-powered leaf that could create ice from the condensation present in desert air in its underbelly. Sounds impossible? Verheggen and his team of engineers have completed a prototype in the Netherlands that proves it can be done on a small scale.

The team has built the artificial leaf covered in photovoltaic solar cells which will power cooling condensers on its underbelly that will soak up humidity and turn it into ice. So far, the artificial leaf or Sunglacier has managed to create a 10-centimeter slab of ice on its aluminum side inside a shipping container that simulates the desert conditions found in Egypt. In the room, the team installed a metal cooler connected to a cooling machine. In order to produce the same effect in an actual desert, the structure would need at least 200 square meters of solar panels that would produce 20 square meters of ice in the shadow.

Although the technology for extracting water from humid air has been around for years, this could be the first time it has been used to create ice. The hot conditions in the desert would even favor the experiment since more heat would mean the artificial leaf would be able to suck more condensation from the air.

So far the project is still in the early stages, but once the group reaches the kinds of efficiencies they're aiming for, Verheggen plans to build a demonstration Sunglacier unit in the desert to inspire others to think outside the box to find solutions to the problem of climate change.

"The project demonstrates that in a totally hopeless environment you can still generate hope. The message is that what many call the looming water crisis is not inevitable. There are solutions, and it all depends on human ingenuity. It all depends on us," Verheggen told the New York Times.