American-Made Challenges


Water Resource Recovery Prize

Address the global need for safe, secure, and affordable water through cutting-edge water resource recovery.

This challenge is closed

Up to $1 million in prizes

This challenge is closed


Challenge Overview

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Advanced Manufacturing Office’s (AMO’s) Water Resource Recovery Prize challenged multidisciplinary teams to present innovative solutions for resource recovery at small- to medium-sized water treatment facilities. To help lower the cost of treatment by extracting additional value from wastewater, the prize sought innovative ideas  to increase resource recovery from municipal wastewater treatment plants across the United States. 

The Water Resource Recovery Prize was launched to advance transformational technology and innovation to meet the global need for safe, secure, and affordable water. This multiphase competition challenged interdisciplinary teams to innovate cost-effective, innovative water treatment technology system configurations and business plans that:

  • Accelerate the recovery of valuable resources.
  • Lower the ultimate cost of small- to medium-sized water resource recovery facilities.

Innovative teams partnered with small- to medium-sized water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs) to compete for up to $1 million in cash prizes by developing ideas that could provide potential wastewater treatment recovery strategies for wastewater treatment facilities. 


The prize consisted of two phases. Phase 1 challenged teams to submit two high-level facility engineering schematics, a business case demonstrating improvement relative to the existing baseline conditions, and a technical description validating the potential for cost-effectiveness and viability of the resource recovery plan. In Phase 2, selected teams from Phase 1 provided a more detailed plan for financing and construction, supported by quantitative analysis and/or modeling



This prize distributed a total of up to $1 million of combined cash prizes. Ten winners selected in Phase 1 each received a $50,000 cash prize, while two winners selected in Phase 2 received $250,000 in cash prizes. 

The grand prize winners are:

•          SoMax BioEnergy: The Borough of Phoenixville Wastewater Treatment Plant, in partnership with SoMax BioEnergy, is implementing Hydrothermal Carbonization as a means of biomass conversion and resource recovery. The Borough utilizes biosolids and local food wastes to efficiently create renewable energy that powers their wastewater treatment and creates excess energy that will be used to reach their goal of using 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

•          Genifuel Not Waste: The project involves operation of a Hydrothermal Processing system to recover energy in wastewater solids as renewable oil and natural gas. The proposed project will be located at the Anacortes Wastewater Treatment Plant in Anacortes, Washington. The proposed system would recover over 90 percent of the carbon in the sludge stream to produce approximately three barrels of 100 percent renewable biocrude per day for subsequent downstream conversion into drop-in fuels, and a gas product which can be either used as-is or upgraded for direct injection into a natural gas pipeline.



The purpose of this prize was to encourage teams of wastewater treatment plants, engineering and design firms, technology developers, resource customers, and others to develop holistic resource recovery plans for their respective wastewater treatment systems.

The proposed solutions represented innovations that could move the sector of small- and medium-sized WRRFs beyond their current technological status while addressing these challenges:

  • Financial stress on municipal budgets. WRRFs purchase about $2 billion of electricity each year and face more than $200 billion in future capital investment needs to meet water quality objectives.
  • Cost of disposal of residual biosolids. By turning recoverable resources into marketable products, WRRFs can create new revenue streams for upgrading water treatment infrastructure, reducing nutrient pollution, and providing sources of alternative water supplies.
  • Increasing the value of recoverable resources to offset the cost of recovery. Recoverable resources include energy that can be used on-site or sold, nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen that can be used as fertilizer, and clean water that can be reused for agricultural, industrial, and drinking water purposes.
  • Advancing system-level energy efficiency. Recovering energy from wastewater reduces the amount of grid electricity required to operate the wastewater treatment plant. Recovered water can also offer a substitute for water sources with a higher level of embedded energy for industrial, agricultural, and municipal use. Moreover, recovered nutrients can be less energy-intensive substitutes for fertilizer on agricultural land.

Challenge Guidelines

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

If you want to receive updates on the prize or have any questions, please subscribe by using the contact feature on the HeroX platform or message us directly at .

We’re also looking for ideas on how to best structure this contest to attract groundbreaking ideas that will spark tomorrow’s resource recovery solutions. If you’re not interested in competing but want to help develop and judge the prize, please feel free to contact us.


Challenge Updates

Grand Prize Winners Announced!

Nov. 9, 2021, 11:59 a.m. PST by NREL Challenge

Grand Prize Winners Announced!

Congratulations to the two grand prize winners of the Water Resource Recovery Prize! 

  • Genifuel Not Waste: James Oyler, Aaron Fisher, and John L. Willis partnered with the City of Anacortes, Washington, Public Works Department, Wastewater Treatment Plant. Working with the wastewater treatment plant in Anacortes, Washington, the team proposed a concept that could recover more than 99% of the carbon in the plant’s wastewater and produce about three barrels of 100%-renewable biocrude per day. The biocrude could then be converted into renewable oil and natural gas and sold as fuel. Because waste disposal is expensive, this process could both offset disposal costs and earn the plant money.
  • SoMax BioEnergy: Dan Spracklin, Art Balzereit, Ross Lee, David Stoklosa, Ed Zalewski, and Jeremy Taylor partnered with the Borough of Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, Wastewater Treatment Plant. In Spring City, Pennsylvania, the team plans to help the wastewater treatment plant generate 100% of their energy needs on-site by using hydrothermal carbonization, a chemical process that mimics nature’s million-year-long method of creating brown coal and converts biomass (like local food waste) into renewable fuel in just a few hours. The plant, which will run entirely on this renewable power, may also share its excess energy with the city to offset other municipal energy needs.

We’d like to thank all the Phase 2 finalists for their time, effort, and impressive submissions. 

Be sure to stay engaged on HeroX to participate in future American-Made Challenges!  

Thank you and congrats again to our grand prize winners!

- The Water Resource Recovery Prize Administration Team


AMC Water Resource Recovery Prize Phase 2 Now Open!

Sept. 9, 2020, 11:46 a.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

Hello Water Resource Recovery Prize Community, 

It is our pleasure to announce that Phase 2 of the Water Resource Recovery Prize is now open! In Phase 2 of the prize, winners of Phase 1 will work to further their innovations to demonstrate how teams would finance and construct their resource recovery solutions. Although Phase 2 is only open to winners of Phase 1, we encourage all members of the community to stay engaged and follow the progress of Phase 2 over the course of the next 12 months. 

On Monday, September 21, 2020, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Water Security Grand Challenge will host a webinar on the Wastewater Resource Recovery Prize (WRRP), including Phase I winners,  competition goals, and how those goals support DOE’s WSGC. For more information and to register, go here. Please join us!

The official rules for Phase 2 can be found at:

Phase 1 winners, please keep an eye out for an email with additional information soon. 


Congratulations to our Phase I Winners!

July 9, 2020, 8:41 a.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

Congratulations to our 10 winners from the Phase 1 contest!  We were highly impressed with the quality of applications that we received - thank you to everyone who submitted an application. 

Next up for the prize will be the Phase II competition, which we anticipate to open in August 2020.

Whether you were selected or not, we encourage you to stay engaged on the HeroX forum and follow the challenge for more exciting updates as the competition continues. 

Thank you again and congrats to our Phase 1 winners!

-Water Resource Recovery Team


Important Timeline Update

June 29, 2020, 11:22 a.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

Hello Innovators,


Please be advised that the Phase 1 winner announcement has been moved to early July 2020. We look forward to announcing the winners soon!


Thank you all for your patience,

The Water Resource Recovery Prize Administrative Team

Water Resource Recovery Prize - Deadline Tomorrow!

May 27, 2020, 6:34 a.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

Hello Innovators, 

Just a friendly reminder that your submissions for Phase 1 are due tomorrow (May 28th) no later  5:00 p.m. ET.  We strongly encourage that you upload your submissions well ahead of the deadline so that you don't have any last minute technical difficulties. If you run into any technical difficulties or have any questions, please email us at before 5pm ET. 

Keep up the hard work,  you're almost there! 

-Water Resource Recovery Prize Team



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