American-Made Challenges


Waves to Water

Accelerated the development of wave-powered desalination systems to provide drinking water in disaster relief and coastal locations.

This challenge is closed

$3.3 million in total prizes

This challenge is closed




The U.S. Department of Energy Water Power Technologies Office challenges innovators to develop wave powered desalination systems for the Waves to Water Prize. The Waves to Water Prize is a 5-Stage, $3.3M contest designed to accelerate the development of small, modular, wave-powered desalination systems capable of providing potable drinking water in disaster relief scenarios and remote coastal locations.

The prize supports the integration of existing and novel wave energy generation technologies with water technologies that can deliver effective, consistent, durable and low-maintenance water delivery systems. The prize seeks to identify the ideal scale of wave energy innovation paired with water technologies that can serve niche markets such as disaster response, and advance the state of both wave energy devices and desalination technologies that could provide value in other markets as the technologies mature.




The prize has five stages, aimed to support concepts through demonstration, with the final stage culminating in an open water testing competition at Jennette’s Pier, where the systems will produce clean water using the power of waves. 




The five stages of this prize will distribute a total of $3.3 million, and will provide access to testing and demonstrating solutions out in the ocean in the final DRINK Stage.



The purpose of this prize is to incentivize the creation of wave powered desalination systems that meet the following goals:

  • Flexibility in Varied Wave Conditions: Competitors must develop systems that can survive harsh wave conditions and operate under different wave conditions and different sites without major tuning to ensure operation at a wide variety of locations. All solutions that make it to the DRINK Stage will be evaluated at an open-water test at Jennette’s Pier, which experiences average- to low-energetic wave resources.
  • Easily Deployed: Systems must be able to be deployed in less than 48 hours, addressing the ability to deploy quickly and easily in a disaster response scenario where there is large uncertainty around site conditions.
  • Ship in a Standard Container: Technologies must fit into a predefined container. The internal dimensions of the container are approximately 41 x 44 x 35 inches—to standardize the shipping constraints that face many disaster response and recovery scenarios.
  • Operate without Environmental Degradation: Brine discharge, or other salt concentration issues from the process of desalinating water will need to be managed without creating environmental issues.
  • Deliver Minimum Water Quality: TThe maximum total dissolved solids (TDS) quantity for this competition is 1,000 mg/L.

For more information on the prize and the rules, please review the official rules for the application process and instructions for competing.



Who can participate?

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

If you want to subscribe to updates on the prize or have any questions, you may use the contact feature on the HeroX platform, or .

We’re also looking for ideas on how to best structure this contest to attract ground-breaking solutions that will support the marine energy and desalination industries. If you’re not interested in competing but want to help develop and judge the prize, .


Challenge Updates

Congratulations to our Grand Prize Winner!

April 8, 2022, 12:25 p.m. PDT by NREL Prize Administrator

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today announced the winners of $1 million in cash prizes in the final stage of the Waves to Water Prize, which challenged competitors to design, build, and test devices that use wave energy to produce clean drinking water from ocean water. Oneka Technologies won the grand prize of $500,000 for its device Oneka Snowflake.  

The Snowflake device earned the highest score for its ability to efficiently harness wave energy and desalinate water. Oneka’s system also scored high on its potential to be commercialized, based on the assessment of expert reviewers.


Read the official U.S. DOE announcement.

DRINK Stage Innovation

April 8, 2022, 12:25 p.m. PDT by NREL Prize Administrator

In addition to the Grand Prize, the following teams were also awarded for their wave-powered water makers’ accomplishments:

  • $125,000 awarded to Team WATER BROS for delivering the lightest device
  • $125,000 awarded to Team Oneka for producing the most water
  • $125,000 awarded across teams for Simplest Assembly. This award was split based on the time to assemble between all four finalist teams as:
    • Oneka: $80,000
    • Mark Zero Prototypes LLC: $20,000
    • WATER BROS: $17,000
    • Project 816: $9,000
  • $125,000 awarded across teams for Simplest Deployment and Retrieval. This award was split based on the scored ease of deployment and retrieval between all four finalist teams as:
    • Mark Zero Prototypes LLC: $38,000
    • WATER BROS: $36,000
    • Project 816: $26,000
    • Oneka: $24,000

After three years of hard work, each of the teams' devices produced desalinated water while weathering the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.


Updated Rules Document Now Available

July 1, 2021, 12:44 p.m. PDT by NREL Prize Moderator (Amanda)

Waves to Water Innovators,  


Please be advised that the official Waves to Water Rules Document has been modified to include test site specifications for the upcoming DRINK Stage and to clarify the number of entries teams can submit.  

Please review these changes, now available in the rules document.


- The Waves to Water Prize Team

Water Power Technologies Office Stakeholder Webinar

Feb. 23, 2021, 9 a.m. PST by Jenny Wiegele

Hi Innovators, 

Join the Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office on March 1, from 3:30–5:00 p.m. ET, for the semiannual stakeholder webinar, where staff will discuss some of the most pressing changes affecting water power R&D in 2021. Led by Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Power and WPTO Director Alejandro Moreno, the webinar will feature program managers and technical leads from across WPTO. Program representatives will provide an update on the administration transition and FY21 budget, highlight recent announcements and publications, share project updates including prize milestones and awards, and discuss upcoming priorities. The presentation will close with Q&A.

This webinar is one of WPTO’s many efforts to improve transparency and engagement with stakeholders in the hydropower and marine energy industries. Register for the webinar and email questions ahead of time .

- The Waves to Water Prize Team

Share your testing needs with PacWave and WPTO

Feb. 16, 2021, 11:36 a.m. PST by Jenny Wiegele

Waves to Water Community, 

We wanted to pass on an opportunity to share your testing needs, regardless of your engagement in the CREATE Stage. 

The development of the PacWave open ocean wave energy test facility is proceeding rapidly and the South test site is scheduled to be operational in the Spring of 2023. 

To help prepare for the first round of testing and demonstration projects, the PacWave and PMEC teams have released an RFI to solicit information from the wave energy converter R&D community, the developers of related blue economy technologies, and other stakeholders. The information received will help the PacWave team understand how the facility can most effectively be used to meet the testing needs of the WEC community and to ensure testing opportunities are aligned with industry and stakeholder needs. We strongly encourage all wave energy converter technology stakeholders to respond to the RFI. 

The submission deadline is February 24, 2021, so get your submissions in soon!

- Waves to Water Team



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