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

Grand Prize Winner Announcement
$3.3 million in total prizes

This challenge is closed


Challenge Overview


The U.S. Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) launched the Waves to Water Prize to encourage the development of small, modular, cost-competitive desalination systems. After five stages and $3.3 million in awards, this competition helped accelerate research and development of wave-energy converters capable of providing clean water, which could help in disaster and recovery scenarios, as well as in water-scarce coastal and island locations. 

Part of the Powering the Blue EconomyTM initiative, the Waves to Water Prize represents the first time the Department of Energy supported a competition to develop and test devices that can turn ocean water into drinking water using the natural energy in the ocean itself. 

Over the last three years, the prize also provided innovators a pathway from initial concept to technical design, to prototyping. The final DRINK Stage concluded in April 2022, with the four finalist teams safely and successfully deploying their wave-powered desalination devices in the waters surrounding Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head, North Carolina. One Grand Prize winner was selected, and all four final teams were awarded for specific accomplishments building their wave-powered water makers.

Learn more about competitors’ cutting-edge innovations and how they could help address coastal resiliency challenges.



The Waves to Water Prize is the result of a partnership  between the Department of Energy and Coastal Studies Institute, which hosted the DRINK Finale. These organizations also worked closely to help ensure a fair and safe competition—successfully installing and retrieving competitors’ wave-energy desalination systems.



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




The purpose of this prize was to incentivize the creation of wave powered desalination systems that could 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: The maximum total dissolved solids (TDS) quantity for this competition is 1,000 mg/L.

Visit the American-Made Challenges Waves to Water Prize website to learn more about the Grand Prize winner and other winning concepts.


Challenge Guidelines


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 Challenge

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 Challenge

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 Amanda Morton

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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