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.
$1 million grand prize and other awards (TBD)

Challenge Overview

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?

In April of 2020, the Solar Energy Technologies Office at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) launched the Solar Desalination Prize competition to help achieve the goals of the Water Security Grand Challenge.

Round 1 is underway in the Design Contest.

Round 2 launched in April of 2021.


Challenge Guidelines

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 Timeline

April 12, 2021, 9:58 a.m. PDT
Date Launched
April 12, 2021, 10 a.m. PDT
Innovation Contest opens
The Round 2 Innovation Contest is open to new competitors
July 15, 2021, noon PDT
Submission Deadline
Innovation Contest submission deadline
July 20, 2021, 7 a.m. PDT
Aug. 10, 2021, 11 a.m. PDT
Judging Closed
Sept. 16, 2021, 11 a.m. PDT
Quarterfinalist Teams announced
Sept. 16, 2021, noon PDT
Jan. 16, 2022, 4:13 p.m. PST
You are here
Feb. 9, 2022, noon PST
Submission Deadline
April 12, 2022, 11 a.m. PDT
Semifinalist Teams announced
April 12, 2022, noon PDT
Design Contest open
o Design Contest Opens
o Submissions accepted as soon as competitors are ready
o Finalists are expected to be announced one month after DOE receives submissions
o Close: April 10, 2025
Updates 16

Challenge Updates

Questions and concerns on team collaboration

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

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 Challenge

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.

Recording of Teaming Kickoff Webinar

Nov. 3, 2021, 2:29 p.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

Hello Teaming Competitors,

We hope you are all making good progress on your Teaming submissions! Below, you will find the link to a recording of the Kickoff webinar on October 18th if you would like to review any of the material covered. We are looking forward to seeing all of your submissions by February 9th.

Good luck!

The Quarterfinalists have been Announced! Next up—the Teaming Contest

Oct. 13, 2021, 12:57 p.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

Register for the Solar Desalination Prize Round 2’s Teaming Event, happening from 12 to 2:30 p.m. ET on Oct. 28 via the virtual conference platform REMO. Meet representatives from the 12 quarterfinalist teams as they present their winning concepts, network with other teams, businesses and individuals looking to support them as they compete for the Teaming Contest.

The Teaming Event will include keynote guest speaker Gavin van Tonder, water sector head of NEOM, and the International Desalination Association.
Register here:  

Quarterfinalists Announced in Round 2 of the Solar Desalination Prize

Sept. 28, 2021, 12:44 p.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

Congratulations to the quarterfinalists announced today in Round 2 of the Solar Desalination Prize. Twelve innovative submissions were selected. The winning teams will receive $50k in cash prizes and advance to the Teaming Contest. Learn more about the winners and stay tuned for details on how you can support the teams!  

Forum 16
Teams 1.4K