‘Breathable sand’: How the UAE’s deserts can be a solution for climate change

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The United Arab Emirates’ vast deserts and sandy terrain could be a solution to tackling climate change, water shortages and food security, according to a company using innovative technology to transform sand granules into agriculturally friendly farmland.

Dubai-based company Dake Rechsand’s ‘breathable sand’ technology helps desert sand retain water around roots while allowing air to flow freely. Chairman and croup CEO Chandra Dake says the technology can revolutionize farming in the desert.

Dubai-based company Dake Rechsand’s ‘breathable sand’ technology helps desert sand retain water around roots while allowing air to flow freely.
Dubai-based company Dake Rechsand’s ‘breathable sand’ technology helps desert sand retain water around roots while allowing air to flow freely.

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“The idea is the desert itself will become a solution for the desert problem,” he told Al Arabiya English. “Desert sand has never been used in any industry before. Now we have created an industry out of it. The breathable sand is a special sand, which makes the plants grow better because it allows aeration.”

Desert sand is treated using Rechsands patented technology called surface-free energy, which is based on how solids react to the surface tension of liquids creating a “water body” on top of the sand.

“Desert sand is the raw material and then we kind of coat it with a special technology, which makes it perform the way we intend to – like the retention of the water,” said Dake.

The sand is coated with a “special” layer made up of a combination of minerals which doesn’t contain any chemicals but accelerates the process of physically changing the properties of the sand, the CEO explained.

Dubai-based company Dake Rechsand’s ‘breathable sand’ technology.
Dubai-based company Dake Rechsand’s ‘breathable sand’ technology.

“This breathable sand – unlike normal desert sand which, when you apply water, normally disappears – holds the water and retains it for far longer,” Dake told Al Arabiya English.

“This becomes your water retention zone. And then this topsoil which used to be desert can now become arable land because you can plant in here and it starts retaining the nutrients and then slowly over a period this becomes rich in minerals and nutrients and then the plant can thrive better.”

This is how the movement of air and water is controlled, according to Dake.

Dake, who moved to the UAE in 2018, says the ‘breathable sand’ can produce “amazing results” for all types of plants, foliage, plants and produce, from jasmine, a coconut tree, roses and hibiscus. (Supplied)
Dake, who moved to the UAE in 2018, says the ‘breathable sand’ can produce “amazing results” for all types of plants, foliage, plants and produce, from jasmine, a coconut tree, roses and hibiscus. (Supplied)

“This makes the plants grow better because it allows aeration,” allowing the roots to get more oxygen, he said.

“So that’s why the plants grow healthy, the leaves are healthy, and the produce is healthy.”

Dake, who moved to the UAE in 2018, says the ‘breathable sand’ can produce “amazing results” for all types of plants, foliage, plants and produce, from jasmine, a coconut tree, roses and hibiscus.

In the UAE, the company has worked with private farms and a few schools in Dubai via the Ministry of Education, and with ministries in Sharjah. In Abu Dhabi, the technology has helped grow peanuts, mung beans, green beans and black-eyed peas, while fruit orchids have also shown promising results.

Dubai-based company Dake Rechsand’s ‘breathable sand’ technology helps desert sand retain water around roots while allowing air to flow freely. (Supplied)
Dubai-based company Dake Rechsand’s ‘breathable sand’ technology helps desert sand retain water around roots while allowing air to flow freely. (Supplied)

The company has further plans for the region, according to Dake. While the treatment of the sand is currently done in China, a plant is due to be built in the UAE by the end of the year.

Furthermore, according to Dake, the company is in talks with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar for pilot projects in the three GCC countries using Rechsand technology.

Another upside to using this technology is the sustainability aspect, he says.

“It saves or reduces the usage of fertilizer. So, you can grow organic produce in uncontaminated soils because there are no fertilizers laden with chemicals. Furthermore, is the saving of water consumption. This technology saves between 75 percent to 80 percent of water. By using this same amount of water, we can plant 10 times more vegetation. So, we have scope for increasing the number of plants for the same amount of water. Also, it reduces the reliance on the importation of crops and produce and increases the self-sufficiency of the UAE.”

The technology only needs to be applied once on the sand and will last a lifetime, said Dake, without needing reapplication.

“You don’t have to reapply after five years or anything – it is just one time for a life and forever the farm becomes arable land.”

Breathable sand is not the only innovative and sustainable solution for water conservation in the Gulf country, which relies on water desalination.

The company is also in talks with the UAE to utilize its ‘sponge city’ technology. This new urban development model uses permeable road and honeycomb water storage to collect rainwater and alleviate floods.

The company is also in talks with the UAE to utilize its ‘sponge city’ technology. This new urban development model uses permeable road and honeycomb water storage to collect rainwater and alleviate floods. (Supplied)
The company is also in talks with the UAE to utilize its ‘sponge city’ technology. This new urban development model uses permeable road and honeycomb water storage to collect rainwater and alleviate floods. (Supplied)

The technology – applied to road surfaces – allows the collection and harvest of large amounts of water – such as when there are heavy downpours across the country – which can then be stored sustainably, treated and reused. The honeycomb technology means the water remains fresh, allowing for a “new water source” for the UAE rather than relying on desalinated water.

The honeycomb technology means the water remains fresh, allowing for a “new water source” for the UAE rather than relying on desalinated water. (Supplied)
The honeycomb technology means the water remains fresh, allowing for a “new water source” for the UAE rather than relying on desalinated water. (Supplied)

The company said they hope the technology will help support the climate ambitions of the UAE, the first country in the region to commit to the Paris Agreement, submit a Nationally Determined Contribution, and the first to set out a roadmap to Net Zero.

Over the last 15 years, the UAE has invested a total of $50 billion in renewable energy and clean tech globally. It plans to invest another $50 billion in the years ahead, including in agri-tech, smarter water use and food production.

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