With an Engineering degree from the California Polytechnic University, USA in 1992 Khalid Benhamou started his career in agricultural operations which rapidly led to wind power developments. While in charge of Research & Innovation at the “Direction des Domaines Agricoles” from 1992-2001, he installed Morocco’s first pilot hybrid wind/diesel system in the Sahara desert in 1994. Unveiling the vast Atlantic trade winds blowing over the Sahara coastline, he successfully sought support from EU institutions as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to access this renewable resource on a regional basis. In presenting the Sahara Wind project at the European parliament in 2002, Khalid broke new grounds in the way wind energy is accessed. Aimed at supplying over 5 GW of green electricity at record-low prices to power Africa and Europe through its dedicated HVDC power line, the project inspired several European industrial and political initiatives eager to capitalize on this concept.
To demonstrate the perennial nature of the wind resource, he established the link between the Atlantic trade winds and 73% of the earth’s known sedimentary Phosphate rock deposits (according to the USGS Index of 2017). Shaping oceanic current by surface friction, North Africa’s phosphate deposits are in fact fossil footprints of the Atlantic trade winds. Their consistency is demonstrated by the regularity of phosphate layers stemming from various paleontological eras and climate cycles. By utilizing this resource as part of the Sahara Wind project’s phosphate upgrades into fertilizers, key global food security objectives can be achieved. Besides enhanced resource transformation efficiencies and the decoupling of fertilizers from fossil fuel-based processes, renewable hydrogen can be cogenerated as feedstock for ammonia or as electro-mobility fuel.
Acting as its original project concept developer – in collaboration with CDER the Centre for the Development of Renewable energy- he submitted the joint UNDP-GEF-World Bank PIMS#3292 ‘Morocco: Sahara Wind Phase I/Tarfaya (400-500 MW) on–Grid Wind Electricity in a Liberalized Market’ threshold capacity to multilateral institutions in 2005. This included Terms of References of the Sahara Wind project’s 5GW HVDC line jointly established with ONEE, Morocco’s electric utility.
Focusing on a market-based, integrated economic model to leverage the Atlantic trade winds, Khalid Benhamou coordinates regional capacity building in Morocco and Mauritania where similar approaches can be used to process that country’s iron-ore deposits into carbon-free steels. This activity is conducted in partnership with the region’s academia and local industries, where wind energy integration in weaker grids remains critical.