By The COAST Reporter
The Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) is piloting a saline water purifying technology that could revolutionize agriculture in arid and semi-areas of Kenya.
The technology, also aims at producing lithium, a natural element used in the manufacture of lithium metal and lithium-ion batteries, heat resistant glass and ceramics, and lithium grease lubricants among others.
The Seawater Greenhouse Technology and Lithium Mining from Saltworks Project is being piloted at Kadzuhoni area of Magarini Subcounty of Kilifi County and is one of such two projects in Africa. The other one is being piloted in Somalia.
Dr. Joseph Nyingi Kamau, a research scientist at KMFRI, says the technology is feasible in areas that have huge amounts of saline water, strong winds and high temperatures, such as Turkana.
The saline water from the sea/aquifers, he explains, is sprinkled on an evaporator setup erected on a greenhouse that is constructed using local paper materials to form two radiator-like structures. The evaporator on the windward side and a condenser on the opposite side while the roof and other sides are covered by polythene materials.
The windy environment provides a gust of wind flow into the greenhouse, which evaporates the water from the evaporator into the greenhouse and flows to the other end where it passes through a heat exchanger to warm the humid air.
According to the research scientist the humid air then passes through a condenser where it is condenses and is collected in a reservoir; ready to be used to water crops and for domestic purposes.
There are only two seawater greenhouse pilot projects in Africa – Kadzuhoni in Kenya and Hargeisa in Somalia. However, this technology is largely used in Australia and Oman.
Dr Kamau explains that the technology thrives in hot windy areas such as Bamba (Kilifi County) and Turkana which have vast water aquifers whose water has very high salt content and is not useful for drinking or for agricultural purposes.
The researcher says that the seawater greenhouse intervention is being implemented under a global project called SALT-MINE which consists of a consortium of scientists from Kenya, Norway, Tanzania, Somalia and South Africa.
“The project has two key deliverables. To pilot a seawater greenhouse and to develop a cost-effective technology to enable lithium extraction from salt brine,” he says adding the high demand for the element lithium is fuelled by the exponential demand from the lithium-ion battery industry.
About four billion people currently live in conditions of severe water scarcity for at least one month per year. A situation that is exacerbated by the impact of climate change, more so in arid areas where food production is severely limited by lack of irrigation water.
Dr Kamau says the system provides an oasis effect that allows for the establishment of an orchard at the area next to the seawater greenhouse where the humid air *exhausts* (exists).
The residue left after the evaporation process is used to develop a cost-effective technology to enable lithium extraction from salt brine.
“There is a high demand for the element lithium, fuelled by the exponential demand from the lithium-ion battery industry,” he says.
Kadzuhoni residents welcomed pilot project saying it has created job opportunities to locals and that many more employment opportunities will be created once the project is fully operational.
William Kombe Fikiri’s shamba (farm) is where the project is being implemented, thus elevating his economic prospects through taking advantage of the project to carry out irrigation scheme.