Solar Desalination Prize Round 2 Seeks Innovative Desalination Technologies Combined With Storage


The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Solar Desalination Prize, a competition designed to spur solutions for water desalination using solar energy, is seeking new and innovative concepts for the Innovation Contest, now through July 15. DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office opened this second round of the competition last April in response to high interest and continued opportunities for technology development.

As many as 40 states are estimated to anticipate water shortages by 2024. Desalination technologies can provide the ability to tap into water resources that are now unusable. The Solar Desalination Prize incentivizes the development of systems that use heat from the sun to purify highly saline water sources, like those produced from oil and gas extraction and other industrial activities.

The salt content in the resulting wastewater can be too high for commercially available desalination technologies, but solar thermal desalination could offer the ability to treat it, even in remote locations. Solar-thermal power is inexpensive and can be stored for use when the sun is not shining.

“In Round 2, we’re really looking for technologies that include that critical storage component,” said Sarah Gomach, prize administrator. “This could allow desalination processes to run around the clock and to be used widely to provide heat for a variety of industrial processes.”

The prize competition for both rounds is divided into four successive phases, each more challenging than the last. Round 1 began in April 2020 and has advanced to the Design phase.

In the initial Innovation phase of Round 2, anyone can submit their solar-thermal desalination concepts, including pathways to manufacture and commercialization. Winners from this phase go on to build teams, complete detailed designs, and finally build and test a prototype system.

To win the final $1 million prize, competitors must build and successfully operate a solar-thermal desalination system capable of producing at least 100 cubic meters of fresh water per day. Round 2 competitors have access to $2.8 million in prizes in the first two phases. In the third and fourth phases, they have access to a pool of up to $5.75 million in prizes and $2.7 million in support services.

This competition is part of the Water Security Grand Challenge, a White House–initiated, DOE-led framework to advance transformational technology and innovation to meet the global need for safe, secure, and affordable water. One of the primary goals of the Water Security Grand Challenge is to launch desalination technologies that deliver cost-competitive clean water.

The prize is part of DOE’s American-Made Challenges, a series of competitions focused on attracting the nation’s entrepreneurs to help strengthen American leadership in energy innovation and domestic manufacturing. Competitors will have access to the American-Made Network, a group of national laboratories, incubators, investors, and industry experts. The network provides industry expertise, access to private capital, and local capabilities to accelerate the development and commercialization of competitors’ innovations.

The Solar Desalination Prize is sponsored by DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office and administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

To learn more about the Solar Desalination Prize, and how you can complete in the Innovation Contest, view the informational webinar or visit

Article courtesy of NREL, the U.S. Department of Energy.

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