The Sahara Solar Breeder Project is a joint initiative by Japanese and Algerian universities that aims to build enough solar power stations by 2050 to supply 50 percent of the energy used by humanity, NewScientist.com reported Tuesday.
The proposal is to begin building a small number of manufacturing plants in the Sahara, turning the desert sand into the high-quality silicon needed to build solar panels.
Some of the energy those panels generate when put into operation would then be used to build more silicon plants, each churning out more solar panels and generating more energy to "breed" more and more plants, the researchers say.
Hideomi Koinuma of the University of Tokyo, heading the Japanese end of the project, admits making silicon panels from the rough sands of the Sahara or other deserts has not been attempted before, but he says it is a logical proposal.
"From the viewpoints of quality, quantity and chemistry, Sahara sand is hard to beat for use as silicon for solar cells," he says.
The Algerian-Japanese effort is not the only one looking to the Sahara for solar power.
The Desertec Foundation, set up last year to promote "clean power from deserts," also aims to generate solar power in the region, although it has a more modest goal; supplying 15 percent of Europe's electricity by 2050.