American-Made Solar Desalination Prize Round 1

In April of 2020, the Solar Energy Technologies Office at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) launched the Solar Desalination Prize competition to help achieve the goals of the Water Security Grand Challenge.

Round 1 quarterfinalists and semifinalists have been selected and are eligible to compete in the Design Contest.

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.

Teaming Contest

These teams have taken steps to include innovative technology developers; established business relationships with key vendors and end users; and identified a possible testing location.

View the details about each semifinalist team from the Teaming Contest (listed alphabetically by team).


Hopewell, NJ

Brine Concentration with Managed Salt Precipitatation

This team, led by AIL Research, is developing a membrane desalination system capable of handling very-high-salinity water and using recovered heat to preheat the brine feed. Their system will be designed to pre-crystallize readily precipitating ions, such as magnesium and calcium, before the brine contacts the membrane, to prolong membrane lifetime. Managing the precipitation of salt and using recovered heat allows more water recovery from high-salinity brines. The team will focus their technology on the production of agricultural water for regions of the country where brackish groundwater is too saline to be used directly. They plan to install their prototype at Bell Ranch, in California, in partnership with Global Water Innovations.

Connecticut Center for Applied Separations Technology

Storrs, CT

Membrane Distillation with Ceramic Membranes

This team, led by researchers from the University of Connecticut, will integrate a newly developed ceramic membrane technology with a solar collector system to treat high-salinity or chemically complex brines. The ceramic membranes provide thermal and chemical stability that enable them to process challenging saline waters, operate at higher temperatures than existing polymeric membranes, and can be more aggressively cleaned when fouled by scaling salts and organics. The team will be developing their pilot for deployment at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Water Treatment Plant in El Paso, TX.


Corvallis, OR

Selective Condensation and Evaporation Using Precise Temperature Regulation (SCEPTER) ZLD

This team plans to advance and commercialize technology developed at Oregon State University and Michigan State University based on a humidification-dehumidification process that can recover clean water from water produced by oil and gas extraction. A novel cyclone separator, which can be easily designed at small scale for portability, separates salt from humid air and enables the process. By separating humid air from solid salt particles, this technology could be a cost- effective method to achieve zero-liquid discharge (ZLD). The team will design their pilot to be installed at the Bureau of Reclamation’s Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility (BGNDRF).


Trenton, NJ

Zero Discharge Multi-effect Adsorption Distiller

This team plans to develop a prototype pilot plant of a zero-liquid discharge solar-thermal desalination system with mineral recovery using its multi-effect adsorption distillation technology. The concept has the potential to be much more thermally efficient, and require simpler operation and maintenance, relative to conventional distillation technology. This team has forged partnerships with key vendors and will be utilizing a solar collector field developed by Hyperlight, in Brawley, CA, to host their pilot.

Katz Water Technologies

Houston, TX

X-Vap: Self- Contained Distillation

This team redesigning its self-contained, compact distillation system to use solar-thermal energy instead of natural gas. The new design blends the existing multi-stage thermal distillation technology into a simpler design with the multi-stage process occurring in a single closed-loop heat exchanger. The technology has the potential to be a modular, portable system that can supply fresh water where needed. Prototype site testing is being planned at the Bureau of Reclamation’s Brackish Groundwater National Desalination Research Facility (BGNDRF), with a particular focus on the oil and gas production market.

Solar Desalt

Houghton, MI

Sorption-Based ZLD Technology

This team is a group of researchers from Michigan Technical University and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have teamed with solar collector suppliers to integrate standard multiple-effect distillation (MED) technology with a high-temperature desorption process and a low-temperature crystallization process to achieve zero liquid discharge (ZLD). The team has identified a test site in Arizona provided by the solar collector supplier Rackam and is collaborating with a waste-water treatment plant as a potential customer for the produced desalinated water.


Houston, TX

Resonant Energy Exchange Desalination

This team is led by researchers from Rice University has developed a nanoparticle-based high-efficiency, low-maintenance solar-heated membrane distillation technology. The team will design a prototype of their nano-photonics solar absorber desalination system in combination with thermal energy storage. The team plans to develop a scalable system design that uses a spiral-wound architecture to minimize the plant’s physical footprint, which will be located at either BGNDRF or at a development near Corpus Christi, TX to provide fresh water.

The HIT Team

Rohnert Park, CA

Switchable Solvent Water Extraction from Brine

This team includes researchers from Idaho National Laboratory and Trevi Systems is developing a solar-thermal-powered liquid/liquid extraction process that removes “hard” ions, like calcium and magnesium, before brine is treated by reverse osmosis, a conventional desalination process. This method could significantly improve the efficiency of reverse osmosis by allowing the process to operate over wider brine input conditions and requiring less maintenance to remove the scale caused by hard ions. The team has formed partnerships with Idaho National Labs, Artic Solar and Global Water Innovation to develop and test their prototype at Bell Ranch, in California, to target the agricultural water market.

Innovation Contest

These teams have taken steps to determine the technical feasibility, scalability, and other potential benefits of the proposed solution and articulated a credible pathway to commercialization.

Graphic of a U.S. map with markers showing locations of the winning teams from the Innovation Contest.

View the details about each quarterfinalist team from the Innovation Contest (listed alphabetically by team).

team location entry title video
BrineZero Hopewell, NJ Brine Concentration with Managed Salt Precipitates
CCR Frisco, TX CCR’s LTDis Technology, Creating a Solution
Connecticut Center for Applied Separation Technology Storrs, CT Membrane Distillation with Ceramic Membranes
Element 16 Arcadia, CA Heat Storage for 24 Hour Desalination
Team Epiphany Pittsburgh, PA 100% Solar Trans-Critical Water Desalination
GreenBlu Trenton, NJ Zero Discharge Multi-effect Adsorption Distiller
Hard Ion Team Rohnert Park, CA Switchable Solvent Water Extraction from Brine
Hawaii 5-O Rohnert Park, CA Forward Osmosis: Biomimicry at Work
Katz Water Technologies Houston, TX X-Vap: Self-Contained Distillation
NoAir Gainesville, FL NoAir: Super-Vacuum Gap Nanomembrane Distillation
Pluvia Los Angeles, CA Mimicking Rain Cycle Using Traveling Liquid Beads
Potent Solar Potables Andover, MA Modular, Inexpensive Solar Thermal Evaporative Desal (MISTED)
SCEPTER Corvallis, OR Portable Treatment of Oil/Gas Wastewater with ZLD
SIP Solutions Team Santa Barbara, CA TSSE: Desalination of Hypersaline Brines
Solar Thermal Enhanced Evaporation Minneapolis, MN Solar Thermal Enhanced Evaporation
Sorption-Based ZLD Technology Houghton, MI Sorption-based ZLD Technology
STREED Team @ Rice Houston, TX STREED: Resident Energy Exchange Desalination
Urban Solar-Desal Building College Park, MD Urban Solar-Desal Building
Vanderbilt Nashville, TN Solar Aqua Flex: Off-Grid Solar Still

Contests & Important Dates

    Timeline graphic for Solar Desalination Prize Round 1.

  • Innovation Contest
    • Open: April 28, 2020
    • Close: July 16, 2020, at 3 p.m. ET
    • Quarterfinalists announced Oct. 19, 2020
    • Review the technical specifications that teams had to consider during the Innovation Contest

  • Teaming Contest
    • Open: Oct. 19, 2020
    • Close: Feb. 9, 2021, at 3 p.m. ET
    • Semifinalists will be announced April 12, 2021

  • Design Contest
    • Open: April 12, 2021
    • Submissions accepted: As soon as competitors are ready
    • Finalists are expected to be announced one month after DOE receives submissions
    • Close: April 2024

  • Test Contest
    • Open: April 12, 2021
    • Submissions accepted: The second Monday in April annually
    • Winners are expected to be announced one month after the DOE site visit

Follow the prize to be updated on future dates and the official rules.

All dates are subject to change including contest openings, deadlines, and announcements.

Solutions that help shape the future

Aerial imagery of a water treatment facility.

Are you a thinker, entrepreneur, facility or potential partner? Anyone with an innovative idea can help promote transformation by participating in the American-Made Challenges.

Follow Round 1 Teams