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Project Phoenix

June 1, 1988


The greenhouse effect, the primary contributor to global warming and climate change, has been a subject of debate for many years. In 1988, ID’s Systems Design workshop investigated this topic and developed a system of interlocking solutions divided into two proposals: Fire Reversed and Fire Replaced. Either one alone could have a substantial impact on global warming if implemented; together, they are mutually reinforcing, and also provide commercial and societal benefits well beyond the reduction of the greenhouse effect.

Project Phoenix gained major nationwide attention when it was published, including coverage in the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine, CNN’s FutureWatch program, and Popular Science, which awarded it the Grand Award for Environmental Technology in the 1991 “Best of What’s New” issue. In 1991 the results of the project were shared with the governments of the U.S., United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, France and Japan, and the UK and German ministries of science took the project under advisement as they developed their long-term environmental policies. The urgency of confronting global warming has only increased in the years since, and the initiatives suggested by Project Phoenix are as relevant today as they were then.

Final Results

Fire Reversed

The goal of Fire Reversed is to replenish and reinforce Earth’s photosynthesizing process, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Its concepts deal with recovering damaged or underdeveloped ecosystems, which would bring many environmental benefits beyond reducing the greenhouse effect. Its concepts fall into two macro-design categories:

  • Regreening deserts and barren lands – a system of domes introduced on the windward fringes of desert areas under which carefully selected plant ecosystems can thrive. As the plants take root and can survive uncovered, the dome systems is gradually moved inward until the entire desert has been greened.
  • Floating wetlands – a simulated floating environment built in the relatively barren mid-ocean areas, where mangrove islands, kelp beds and mollusk farms could be cultivated. Covering an ocean area of 1,000,000 square kilometers with these structures could remove half a billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere per year.

PDF proposal: Project Phoenix_Fire Reversed

Fire Replaced

Fire Replaced explores innovative ways of replacing carbon-based fuels for production of heat, light and energy to prevent further exacerbation of the global warming problem. It takes as its starting point the idea of space-based solar power, which overcomes both the main obstacles to efficient solar generation: the large commitment of the planet’s surface area for solar collectors (over 116,000 square kilometers would be required to meet the planet’s energy needs by 2030), and the intermittent nature of sunlight on the surface due to the diurnal cycle and inclement weather.

Project Phoenix envisions a system of solar power satellites, each with 116 square kilometers of collectors attached, in orbit around the Earth. They would be built with raw materials harvested from the lunar surface and assembled in a factory orbiting the moon, and operated from a new permanent space station. Power would be beamed by microwave back to Earth to large flat “rectennas” located in remote areas.