A giant dune-spanning, solar-powered leaf could turn even the most parched desert outpost into a fertile oasis of ice. 

The concept (and the above image) certainly seems like a scene Salvador Dali would have painted, however, this is no surrealist figment of the imagination. It's an actual project called SunGlacier that Dutch artist, Ap Verheggen, has hatched with Cofely Refrigeration to make the impossible possible.

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Verheggen wants to design a 2,153-square-foot structure covered in solar cells that would power cooling condensers on its under belly.


Sounds like a hair-brained theory, but in an experiment, Verheggen and his team of engineers produced a 4-inch thick layer of ice on an aluminum slab. They tricked out the inside a shipping container to simulate the same summertime conditions as found in Aswan, Egypt, where the relative humidity is typically 22 percent. To simulate desert winds, they pointed a fan at the aluminum slab.

In the room, they installed a metal cooler connected to a cooling machine outside that pumps cold fluids at a temperature as low as -20 Celsius. It took just a few minutes after the machines were running for a layer of ice to start to grow. The teams says that in order to produce this effect in an actual desert, they would need to build a structure that has 200-square meters of solar panels, which would produce 20-square meters of ice in the shadow.

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SunGlacier is not necessarily meant to be a solution to the world's water shortages. It's more of a statement of innovation, meant to spur others into thinking creatively about tackling climate issues.

"The project demonstrates that in a totally hopeless environment you can still generate hope. The message is that what many call the looming water crisis is not inevitable. There are solutions, and it all depends on human ingenuity. It all depends on us," Verheggen told the New York Times.

So far, the SunGlacier leaf exists only in sketches and artist renderings, but once tests are finished next year, sculpting the enormous structure will get underway.


Image: Ap Verheggen