With population numbers expected to rise exponentially, and the global growth of the middle class to continue, the topic of the sustainability of resources becomes more pertinent. More cities are needed, functioning infrastructure must be available, and it must all reflect the hallmarks of modern civilization.
However, it has become apparent that populations are growing faster than cities can be constructed.
Some philosophers and thinkers have started looking to the sea to solve some of these problems. And if their ideas are to become reality, it should present civil engineers some unique challenges. The main challenge: how to build a floating city.
The result is a futuristic movement blending civil engineering and marine engineering; seasteading.
A case for floating
Blue Frontiers, a Singaporean startup has linked arms with a California-based nonprofit named the Seasteading Institute to make seasteading a reality in the near future. They are formalizing their efforts on a project dubbed ‘The Floating Island Project’.
Thanks to their unique governing frameworks, these floating cities will create utopias, says the company’s promotional material.
“Seasteaders plan to provide you with the technology to found your own floating nation on the ocean. And seasteading is already happening,” said president of the Seasteading Institute Joe Quirk, at a futurism conference named Voice & Exit in 2015.
Quirk explains that floating cities are not a new idea - engineers have been engaged in building floating communities for a variety of reasons.
Shell has a floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) facility 475km north-north east of Broome, Western Australia. It is the largest floating facility ever built and is an indicator that a floating life at sea is possible. The floating facility employs 260 local workers. The facility will produce liquefied natural gas for the next 25 years.
Similarly, cruise ships are commonly referred to as floating cities. The existence of floating nuclear-powered military submarines, ships and even floating nuclear power plants are becoming a reality.
“Nearly half the world’s surface is a blank slate, unclaimed by existing governments, and we want to create a thousand startup governments on the sea,” Quirk said. A floating city might also have a unique advantage that may just attract the environmentalists; solar power.
Engineers are currently building an energy producing system utilizing a process known as ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC). Essentially, it turns the ocean into one big solar panel.
With seawater absorbing a lot of the sun’s emitted energy, the thinking is that the heat at the surface of the ocean can be captured and converted into electricity. The process includes deep cold seawater, heat exchangers, refrigerants, and a turbine. The lead engineers of Makai Ocean Engineering explain in this video:
Soon a reality?
In January 2017, the Seasteading Institute and the government of French Polynesia signed a Memorandum of Understanding, setting the stage for a seastead to be constructed. Blue Frontiers, the company spearheading the project, alongside the Seasteading Institute, must, however, raise all the funds.
The company in charge of constructing the floating city s a company named DeltaSync. Quirk says that humanity could be uplifted because of future floating cities. He is advocating a mantra of ‘ocean first, space second’.
He also reflects on rising sea levels in French Polynesia, thanks to global warming. A future which includes floating cities could save entire communities from being swept away by the ever encroaching sea.
“Is it doable? We walked on the moon 45 years ago. It’s easier to float than fly. It’s cheaper to build seastations than space stations.”
Blue Frontiers has even created its own crypto-currency for the floating city they plan to build in French Polynesian waters. They hope to have a functioning example by 2020, but still have a long way to go and a lot more money to raise before the project truly sees the light of day.
Quirk believes they could have a functioning floating city completed by 2050 if all goes according to plan.
However, Silicon Valley billionaire investor, Peter Thiel, is a little skeptical, he feels that the seastead is “not quite feasible from an engineering perspective”. He previously invested $1.7 million into the Seasteading Institute but has since extricated himself from the project.
Nonetheless, engineers are at the forefront of creating sustainable solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. With technological growth experiencing great leaps every decade, which in turn is making technology much more affordable, solutions to dire infrastructural problems are being presented.
“Atlantis Rising: Why Floating Cities Are the Next Frontier (Joe Quirk).” YouTube, 16 Mar. 2015, youtu.be/Jr8Iw4o7Gic.
“Prelude FLNG.” Shell Global, www.shell.com/about-us/major-projects/prelude-flng.html.