Some time ago, we posted a story about how Sundrop Farms (see here: Re-Inventing Agriculture) was re-inventing agriculture. At that time, the company was still operating a pilot project, however, a few days ago Sundrop launched its full scale commercial project.
In what remains a world first, the ground breaking greenhouse project relies on sunlight and seawater to grow tomatoes on a site which is 300 kilometres north of Adelaide. The company spent several years developing the idea at a pilot plant on the outskirts of Port Augusta, before building a commercial facility that is 100 times larger.
The 20-hectare facility is futuristic-looking and includes a field of more than 23,000 mirrors that capture the sunlight and direct it to a central receiver at the top of a 127-metre “power” tower. At its peak it produces 39 megawatts of thermal energy, which is used for electricity, heating and making water.
All the water used for irrigating the crops is piped from the Spencer Gulf and converted into fresh water using a thermal desalination unit. While it does not use any fresh water, the solar-driven project still relies on grid utilities for 10 to 15 per cent of its power needs, especially during winter when there is less sunlight.
The commercial facility cost around $200 million to build, with private equity firm KKR investing $100 million in Sundrop Farms. The Port Augusta facility will produce at least 15,000 tonnes of truss tomatoes a year. Sundrop also has a 10 year contract with Coles to supply tomatoes.