Previously Earth’s Energy told you about Desertec, a grand design by European governments and firms to use the energy from the North African Sun to power Europe.  (See Europe Covets the North African Desert)   Now Japanese academics are planning their own energy utopia for the Sahara.

ieee spectrum informs us on the Sahara Solar Breeder Project, a Japanese proposal that could supply a major portion of the world’s energy. The brain child of Hideomi Koinuma, an engineering professor at the University of Tokyo, his project would transform North Africa while supplying much needed electricity to Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

The idea: Perfect a process that turns the Sahara’s sand into high-purity silicon suitable for making solar panels, build factories in Algeria to churn out those photovoltaic panels, and establish solar power stations throughout empty desert land. Then send the abundant clean electricity produced across vast distances—around Africa, Europe, and the Middle East—via high-temperature superconducting transmission lines.

It’s an outrageously ambitious plan, but Koinuma has a knack for convincing people that it can and must be accomplished. He has persuaded the Japan Science and Technology Agency and the Japan International Cooperation Agency to jointly fund the project for five years at about US $1 million per year, and the Ministry of Higher Education in Algeria has pitched in some money as well. This August, collaborators from around the world gathered at a meeting in Japan to discuss the project’s next steps.

Koinuma thinks it will be possible to increase efficiencies in the silicon purification process and create high yields of pure silicon from Sahara desert sand.

He also realizes that the oil in North Africa has a limited life span and that the countries there need to think about an alternative future stream of revenue to support their expanding populations.

“Arabic countries are very interested in solar energy,” says Koinuma. “They know that they are rich right now because of oil, but the oil is not infinite—maybe in 50 years their oil wells will dry up. So now, while they’re getting a lot of money from oil, they must invest and plan for the next energy.”


with h/t Fred

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