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Regreening Africa through sodium batteries to fight climate change.

Image credit: BBC

Simon S
Simon S Feb 15, 2021
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Recent technological advances in sodium battery & reverse osmosis technologies have enabled a production loop which could regreen large portions of Africa.

  1. Build Solar power station with Sodium battery bank storage to power a desalination & pumping plant.
  2. Desalination plant produces fresh water & highly concentrated brine.
  3. Fresh water is pumped away to regreen desert.
  4. Sodium is extracted from the Sodium Chloride in the brine. (as well as other useful metals such as magnesium, calcium and potassium)
  5. The Sodium is used to make Sodium battery banks for the next desalination plant. Chlorine is repurposed for common industrial uses.
  6. Repeat from 1

Previously the damage caused by mining the minerals for the battery banks and the ecological damage from the brine being released into the sea, would have caused more harm than good, but with these breakthroughs the net result would be:
  1. Increased water security for hundreds of millions of Africans.
  2. Increased food security for hundreds of millions of Africans, as more arable land becomes availiable
  3. Economic development for African countries as regreening creates 10,000's of jobs.
  4. A huge new carbon sink to help combat climate change.
  5. More cloud generating land as water evaporates off the surface of the regreened areas - reflecting more of the sun's energy away to again slow down climate change.
  6. A huge new source of renewable timber, to help move away from plastics and into biodegradable packaging.
  7. A minor way of combating sea level rise as millions of litres of water are brought into the land.
  8. The ability to prevent and reverse the expansion of the Sahara desert.

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General comments

Darko Savic
Darko Savic3 years ago
I was looking for a model environment on google maps and found the Draa river in Morocco https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draa_River. Recreating the conditions found around that river is the best such a project could hope for. Even though the river seems quite strong the greenery is not extending far from the river bed.

Even if vast amounts of water were available the choice seems to be between a narrow belt of greenery that extends far or a wide area that is localized.
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Simon S
Simon S3 years ago
Darko Savic It would likely be the case that the best approach would be to pump the water to carefully chosen high points in the land to create new artifical rivers with enough capacity that places downstream can tap them, in much the same way as the Nile is currently tapped. Saudi Arabia has done a great job in making desert arable via irrigation, and in India the return to stepped ponds and wadi's has enabled regreening particularly well.

Supplimenting Lake Victoria for example, would not only allow better use of the Nile to the north, but further channels could be carved to allow flow to the west and south. One deposit point then feeding hundreds of miles downstream.

Without a doubt though regreening would be a project on the scale of decades rather than years, as strips of land grow forest and the sand - now soil - stablises, water will evaporate off causing rainfall many miles away from the water sources, which itself will enable natural regreening in areas without any direct human intervention.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic3 years ago
I was thinking.. Have there been any attempts at forestation with salt-tolerant species of trees/shrubs? Some thrive in seawater. It shouldn't be difficult to do some experimenting and try to get a small forest going somewhere in a dry coastal area. Solar-powered seawater pumps could be run through huge filters made of sand and irrigate the area on a timer. Artificial shade/nets could protect the small plants while they establish themselves.

If the above was successful.. I'm thinking about how such a forest could aid in the filtering of seawater and storage of freshwater. Trees serve as natural sponges, collecting and filtering rainwater and releasing it into streams/rivers. Could we come up with a natural system that gets progressively less salty as the water is pushed inwards through the forest?

Genetically engineered species of trees/shrubs come to mind. Are any known to be especially good at holding freshwater? They could be engineered to survive on seawater but prefer and store freshwater.

Timer-operated pumps could aid such a forest, and move the water storages inland, making the coastal trees more "thirsty" and the process moving faster.
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Povilas S
Povilas S3 years ago
Hi Simon S . A great idea indeed. Very sustainable feedback loop. And a lot of pros. The desalination plants would naturally be placed along the coastal areas, so the regreening would also happen mostly along the coasts. I'm wondering what about further, more continental areas? The fresh water might be delivered further using pipes and pumps, but I'm not sure how practical is that or how far is still practical.

Also, I'm wondering how much of a brine produced by desalination would be used to make new batteries, the demand for the batteries would probably be much lower than the amount of the brine produced, and since you mentioned that the release of the brine into the sea is not a good idea, some other ways for utilizing the brine might be necessary as Darko Savic indicated. One way for utilizing it would be the production of table salt, but the demand for it is probably still too low to balance the production with utilization.

PS: Sorry, I didn't see your reply to Darko Savic while writing this. From reading about them sodium-ion batteries really seem like the future of batteries.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic3 years ago
Hi Simon S, welcome 🙂

Amazing idea. I'm trying to look up if there are any additional, less obvious uses for sodium chloride. Could it be mixed with something to make it insoluble in water and thus useful as a building material? Something along these lines
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