A renewable-energy "oasis" slated to be built this year may serve as a proving ground for new technologies designed to bring green living to the desert.
According to a report in National Geographic News, the planned research center is part of the Sahara Forest Project, but it would not be built in Africa.
Sahara means "desert" in Arabic, and the center is meant to be a small-scale version of massive green complexes that project managers hope to build in deserts around the globe.
Experts are now examining arid sites in Australia, the US, the Middle East, and Africa that could support the test facility.
"The Sahara Forest Project is a holistic approach for creation of local jobs, food, water, and energy, utilizing relatively simple solutions mimicking design and principles from nature," said Frederic Hauge, founder and president of the Norwegian environmental nonprofit the Bellona Foundation.
For instance, special greenhouses would use hot desert air and seawater to make fresh water for growing crops, solar energy would be collected to generate power, and algae pools would offer a renewable and easily transportable fuel supply.
In addition, planting trees near the complex would trap atmospheric greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide while restoring any natural forest cover that has been lost to drought and timber harvesting.
"From my perspective as an environmentalist, this could be a game changer in how we produce biomass for food and energy, and how we're going to provide fresh water for the future," Hauge said.
"I've never been so engaged and fascinated as I am now," he added.
The project's members are conducting feasibility studies in several countries, the initial results of which were presented in December 2009, at the Copenhagen climate conference.
The testing center slated for imminent construction should provide even more data on how well the project's suite of green technologies might work in real life.
Hauge said he has gotten "fantastic response" from some governments, and he hopes to build the first full-scale facility within the next couple years.
According to Hauge, local community involvement is key, noting that the project would rely on local people to maintain the complexes.
"Working in developing countries, you need technology that is easy for local people" to operate, he said. "We are very aware of how this is approached from the local communities," he added.