American-Made Challenges


Solar Desalination

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

Challenge Overview

Solar Desalination Prize

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


Graphic of the American-Made Challenges framework; Make a plan, design a proof of concept, develop prototype and identify pilot partner.


The Opportunity

Removing salt from water takes a lot of energy! Many of the largest untapped water resources in the US and around the world cannot be cost-effectively used because of high concentrations of dissolved salts.

Water treatment processes, like reverse osmosis, are efficient when salt concentrations are low, but can’t treat high-salt waters like those that are produced from oil and gas wells, concentrated brines, and some industrial and agricultural wastewaters.

Novel thermal desalination technologies can purify water with very high salt content without dramatically increasing the amount of energy required. By using solar thermal as the energy source, desalination technologies could be used in a variety of important environments, especially in arid areas with high sun exposure, where water purification is especially important.


The Prize Structure

The Solar Desalination Prize has a rapid iteration prize structure designed to help entrepreneurs use innovative research to come up with ideas, then design and test concepts, with the end goal of having shovel-ready technology primed for industry adoption.

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.



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.

Updates 9

Challenge Updates

Innovation Contest Winners Announced

Oct. 19, 2020, 11:34 a.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

Congratulations to the 19 quarterfinalists who were announced today by U.S. Department of Energy as winners of the Innovation contest! Each winner will receive $50,000 in cash and advance to the Teaming contest of the competition. The competitors were chosen from more than 160 submissions, and come from 12 states and representing universities, industry, and national labs. 

  • Heat Storage for 24-Hour Solar Desalination, Arcadia, CA
  • Solar Thermal Enhanced Evaporation, Minneapolis, MN
  • NoAir: Super-Vacuum Gap NanoMembrane Distillation, Gainesville, FL
  • TSSE Desalination of Hypersaline Brines, Santa Barbara, CA
  • Sorption-Based ZLD Technology, Houghton, MI
  • Portable Treatment of Oil/Gas Wastewater with ZLD, Corvallis, OR
  • Forward Osmosis – Biomimicry at Work, Rohnert Park, CA
  • STREED - Resonant Energy Exchange Desalination, Houston, TX
  • Zero Discharge Multi-effect Adsorption Distiller, Trenton, NJ
  • Modular Inexpensive Solar-Thermal Evaporative Desal, Andover, MA
  • Solar Aqua Flex: Off-Grid Solar Still, Nashville, TN
  • Brine Concentration with Managed Salt Precipitates, Hopewell, NJ
  • Urban Solar-Desal Building, College Park, MD
  • Membrane Distillation with Ceramic Membranes, Storrs, CT
  • Mimicking Rain Cycle Using Traveling Liquid Beads, Los Angeles, CA
  • Switchable Solvent Water Extraction from Brine, Rohnert Park, CA
  • X-VAP: Self-Contained Distillation, Houston, TX
  • CCR’s LTDis Technology, Frisco, TX
  • 100% Solar Transcritical Water Desalination, Pittsburgh, PA

Stay tuned for updates on the next phase of the competition. 



Update on Prize Timeline

Oct. 12, 2020, 8:44 a.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

We would like to apologize for the longer than expected time it is taking to review the Innovation Round submissions. We hope to announce the winners soon.

Meanwhile, for every day that we’re delayed, we will also be delaying the deadline for the Teaming phase, so teams will still have 3.5 months to complete the next phase and have plenty of time to schedule a Teaming workshop.

Thank you for your patience.

Thanks for your interest and check out these other prizes!

July 24, 2020, 8:56 a.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

We’re excited to have had more than 160 submissions for the first phase of the Solar Desalination Prize. While our judges are busy reviewing the entries, please check out these other prizes that are currently accepting submissions. Solar Prize Round 4 – Geothermal Prize -

Submission Deadline July 16th

July 13, 2020, 11:36 a.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

The Solar Desalination submission deadline is THIS THURSDAY! Submissions must be received by July 16 at 3 p.m. ET. There will be no exceptions, so please don’t wait until the last minute to submit.

Solar Desal Prize Submissions

July 2, 2020, 4:10 p.m. PDT by NREL Challenge


Less than two weeks to go before the submission deadline for the Solar Desalination Prize! Our FAQs have been updated with answers to questions asked at the June 18 Technical Specifications Webinar. If you happened to miss it, view it online here - Good Luck!

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