American-Made Challenges


Solar Desalination Round 2

Develop systems that use low-cost solar-thermal energy to help clean water produced by oil & gas extraction & other industrial activities.

This challenge is closed

Design Contest open
$1 million grand prize and other awards (TBD)

This challenge is closed



Solar Desalination Prize

The Solar Desalination Prize is a competition designed to accelerate the development of systems that use low-cost solar-thermal energy to produce clean water from very-high-salinity water, like water produced from oil and gas extraction. The clean water produced can be used in municipal, agricultural, and industrial applications.



The Opportunity

According to Environment Protection Agency, the oil and gas industry produces several hundred billion gallons of wastewater annually.  This water can have a salt content that is too high for commercially available desalination technologies. Solar thermal desalination can the solution to treating this water, even in remote locations.

The technologies used in solar desalination can also be used in industrial applications like food processing, chemical production, and mineral processing. Solar desalination systems and many industrial applications like food processing do not require high temperatures, so they utilize lower-cost components than other electricity-producing applications.


The Prize Structure

The prize is structured in four phases. Each successive phase is more challenging than the last, with larger prizes and fewer competitors advancing. The challenge requires competitors to make progress on a condensed timeline, form private-sector partnerships, and secure investments to make their ideas a reality. 

By the end of the competition, the teams will have designed their solar-thermal desalination system, obtained the necessary permitting and approval documents, built it, and then demonstrated the operation of their system. The Department of Energy will determine the winner and award a final prize of $1 million in cash. 




Who can participate?

Entrepreneurs, technologists, hardware developers, engineers, solar experts, and investors are all encouraged to join the challenge, be part of the American-Made Network and create ground-breaking solutions that will accelerate solar desalination technologies.

Please review the official rules for the application process and instructions for competing.


Challenge Updates

Sunvapor Selected as Solar Desalination Prize Finalist

April 18, 2024, 1:58 p.m. PDT by NREL Prize Moderator

Another Solar Desalination Prize finalist has been selected. Sunvapor from Pasadena, CA, has been awarded $750,000 for their Solar Hybrid Desalination Process. 

Sunvapor’s Solar Hybrid Desalination Process project focuses on brine management—taking in brines produced from a variety of sources, such as reverse osmosis waste, power plant cooling towers, and other waste streams with high salt content.

The team is now the second team to advance to the Test Contest as a finalist. Sunvapor will now build their prototype system with a production capacity of at least 100 cubic meters of fresh water per day. Competitors will then demonstrate the consistent and repeatable operation of their prototype system.

Congratulations to Sunvapor. Learn more about the team’s SCEPTRE solution

Katz Water Technologies Advances to Stage Four

Feb. 28, 2023, 12:40 p.m. PST by NREL Prize Administrator

We’re excited to announce the Solar Desalination Prize has a new finalist! Katz Water Technologies was the first team to win $750,000 and move on to the final phase of the prize, where they’ll build, validate, and get ready to demonstrate their innovative solar-thermal-powered distillation system to purify salt water. Read all about this unique challenge and their clever technology:

Check back for updates to see who our next finalist will be! 

Teaming Contest Semifinalists Announced!

April 22, 2022, 11:19 a.m. PDT by NREL Prize Administrator

Congratulations to the Solar Desalination Prize Round 2 semifinalist teams, announced today by the U.S. Department of Energy at the American-Made Earth Celebration. 

  • Sunvapor, from Pasadena, California
  • Planet A Energy, from Pasadena, California
  • SolMem, from Houston, Texas
  • Artic Solar, from Jacksonville, Florida
  • Team Trident, from Santa Barbara, California
  • Winston Cone Optics, from Merced, California

The six semifinalists will receive $250,000 and a $100,000 technical assistance voucher to help design their systems in the Design and Test phases of the competition. 

Learn more about EERE and the American-Made Challenges

Questions and concerns on team collaboration

Nov. 22, 2021, 7:19 a.m. PST by NREL Prize Administrator

We have received a couple of questions surrounded collaborations between competitors within the Teaming Phase of the Prize. As stated in the rules document, the goal for the Teaming Contest is to identify a cross-functional team that can develop and successfully validate an operational prototype of a solar-thermal desalination system. However you build that team is entirely your decision – whether you collaborate with other prize participants, utilize the American-Made Network, or find external experts. The strongest submissions will demonstrate a team that has the necessary experience, expertise, and access to resources required to develop the proposed concept into a prototype. Each entry will be evaluated based on the criteria outlined in the rules.

Recording of Solar Desalination Prize Teaming Event now available

Nov. 10, 2021, 10:31 a.m. PST by NREL Prize Administrator

The recording of the Teaming Event for the Solar Desalination Prize, held Thursday, October 28th, is now available for viewing. If you were not able to make the event, we encourage you to watch each of the 12 Teaming Contest competitors give their 4-minute pitch presentations describing their innovations below. A keynote address by NEOM's Gavin von Tonder is also featured.