American-Made Challenges

Solar Desalination

Solar Desalination

Expand the utilization of non-traditional sources of water, ensure water security in the U.S. and improve the resilience of infrastructure.
Phase 1 opens
$1 million grand prize and other awards (TBD)

Challenge Overview

Solar Desalination Prize

The Solar Desalination Prize is a four-stage prize contest that will advance thermal desalination technologies to expand the utilization of non-traditional sources of water, ensure water security in the U.S. and improve the resilience of American infrastructure.



The Opportunity

Many of the largest sources of non-traditional water resources contain high concentrations of dissolved salts, and desalination technologies can make these resources usable. Current state-of-the-art desalination technology, reverse osmosis, uses electricity to pressurize salt water and pass it through a selective membrane, producing fresh water on one side, and a concentrated brine waste stream on the other, but it is not well-suited to high-salinity water.

Thermal desalination technologies can handle water with very high salt content without greatly increasing the amount of energy needed. By utilizing low-cost solar-thermal energy, desalination technologies could be used in a variety of important environments, especially in arid, sunny places where water purification is especially important. Some potential applications include: purification of water produced from oil and gas wells and treatment of concentrated brine from inland desalination systems, including municipal systems reliant on underground saline aquifers; remote agricultural applications, and wastewater purification.


The Prize Structure

The Solar Desalination Prize has a rapid iteration prize structure that makes it easier for our nation’s entrepreneurs to transform innovative research from early-stage concepts to more mature technology primed for industry adoption.

The prize is comprised of four consecutive phases that accelerate entrepreneurs’ efforts to develop innovative solar desalination concepts into commercially viable products. In each phase, the winners are determined by a panel of reviewers evaluating results based on pre-determined criteria. Millions of dollars in prizes will be awarded over the competition, increasing in value in each phase, culminating in a $1 million grand prize at the end of the competition for successful testing and demonstration of promising solar desalination prototypes.


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