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.

This challenge is closed

Test Contest Open
$1 million grand prize and other awards (TBD)

This challenge is closed



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.


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.



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, 1:59 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

Solar Desalination Prize Round 2 opens!

April 12, 2021, 10:54 a.m. PDT by NREL Prize Administrator

On April 12, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office announced $5 million in new funding and the launch of Round 2 of the Solar Desalination Prize


Round 2 is accepting submissions for the Innovation Content, now through July 15, 2020. 

Be sure to read the new rules, as Round 2 is focused on new concepts for the collection and storage of solar-thermal energy, enabling desalination processes to run around the clock, and which can be widely used to provide heat for a variety of industrial processes.

Make sure to register for the Round 2 Informational Webinar on May 4:

Congratulations to our Teaming Contest semifinalists!

April 12, 2021, 10:46 a.m. PDT by NREL Prize Administrator

Congratulations to the eight teams selected as semifinalists in the Teaming Contest of the Solar Desalination Prize Round 1. The competitors have been hard at work for the past year developing their ideas, forming teams, and looking forward to the design phase. Congratulations to the following teams: 

  • BrineZero
  • Connecticut Center for Applied Separations Technology
  • Espiku
  • GreenBlu
  • Katz Water Technologies
  • Solar Desalt
  • The HIT Team

The semifinalists will receive $250,000 in cash and $100,000 in support vouchers and advance to the Design Contest of the competition, where they will complete a detailed, ready-to-build design of their solar-thermal desalination facility prototype for a chance to win $750,000 in cash and $100,000 in vouchers.

In case you missed it, the Department of Energy launched Round 2 of the Solar Desalination Prize on April 12. Learn more about Round 2.

Final Reminder: Join us for the networking event tomorrow

Dec. 7, 2020, 1:17 p.m. PST by NREL Prize Administrator

Just a reminder – join us tomorrow at 3pm Eastern to talk with the quarterfinalist teams of the Solar Desalination Prize.

To refresh yourself on each team’s concept and what partners they are looking for, check out this recording of the Pitch event last week:

If you have not yet registered, you can do so here:

Looking forward to seeing everyone tomorrow!

Networking Event next Tuesday!

Dec. 3, 2020, 9:12 a.m. PST by NREL Prize Administrator

Interested in learning more about the Solar Desalination Prize quarterfinalist teams? Join us for a networking event next Tuesday 12/8 for an opportunity to virtually connect with team members representing each of the quarterfinalists.  Register here: