U.S. Department of Energy Boosts Solar Desalination Innovation with $15M Competition

July 9, 2021 | Andy Barnes, Dir. of Policy & Communications

Across the globe, 1.6 billion people struggle with access to clean potable water that is economically viable. The United States is not immune from water issues, as a projected 40 states will face shortage in the next decade.

Just this past week, amid a worsening drought across the Western U.S., the Bureau of Reclamation released figures highlighting that the Colorado River Reservoirs are catastrophically low.

Desalination, one potential technological solution, has historically faced several challenges including high cost, energy requirements, and environmental concerns. Solar thermal desalination provides advantages to overcoming these challenges, as many of the geographic locations with water stress overlap with areas of high solar irradiation.

Pushing the cost of solar thermal desalination down, and getting this technology to commercial scale, is a steep but not insurmountable challenge. That’s why the U.S. Department of Energy is putting $15 million in prize money behind Phase 2 of the American-Made Solar Desalination Prize through the American-Made Challenges program.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) is seeking ideas that will accelerate the development of systems that use low-cost solar-thermal energy to produce clean water from very-high-salinity water, like water produced from oil and gas extraction. The clean water produced can be used in municipal, agricultural, and industrial applications. NREL program administrators recently held a webinar covering the official rules of the prize, which is structured in four phases. Each successive phase is more challenging than the last, with larger prizes and fewer competitors advancing.

Contest 1, Innovation, is open to the public and applications are due on July 15th through the prize forum. Quarterfinalists will be announced in September 2021 and receive $50,000 each. Contest winners will then continue to the next phases of the challenge and have the opportunity to win millions of dollars over the competition.

CEBN recently held a webinar featuring Sarah Gomach, a program administrator from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Gary Katz, Founder and CEO of Katz Water Technologies, and one of eight semifinalists from the first round of the Solar Desalination Prize, also spoke on the webinar. The full recording can be found below.

Sarah provided an overview of the prize and highlighted that DOE is looking for applications that are novel, technically feasible, and impactful.

Gary stressed the importance of securing third-party letters of support early and to “be honest in your proposal of what you need and where you are.” He continued, “DOE is not looking for a perfect solution. They want to help people take innovative ideas to the marketplace. Accurately explain where you are, what you need, and where you’re heading so they can make a real evaluation.”

In its capacity as a Power Connector for the American-Made Challenges program, CEBN works to spread awareness of challenges and assist applicants as they navigate the prize. If you are interested in applying to the Solar Desalination prize, reach out and let us know, and don’t forget to submit your applications by 3 pm ET on July 15th through the HeroX platform!

Additionally, to support the Round 1 semifinalists, CEBN is seeking potential teaming partners (particularly those with expertise on business development), investors, and experts for customer/market discovery. Please contact us if interested in learning more about ways to engage with teams.