Oneka team with the Oneka snowflake
Winners Oneka Technologies with their device

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.  

“Competitors in the Waves to Water Prize have demonstrated innovation and creativity in capturing wave-powered energy, and have also demonstrated the additional humanitarian benefits of marine energy as a key resource to increase access to clean drinking water,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Kelly Speakes-Backman. “Renewable, wave energy-powered systems could supply clean water to water-scarce, remote, or island communities that are already particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. These easily shipped desalination systems may also prove to be a crucial lifeline to support resilience and recovery in the face of worsening natural disasters.”    

The five-stage Waves to Water Prize, which is funded by DOE’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) and administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), challenged teams to develop small, modular, wave energy-powered desalination systems and awarded $3.3 million total over the last three years. This prize represents the first time DOE supported a competition to develop and test devices that can turn ocean water into drinking water using the natural energy in the ocean itself. The prize is part of DOE’s Powering the Blue Economy Initiative, which seeks to develop marine energy systems to support the power needs of coastal and ocean applications.  

Oneka Technologies and three additional finalists safely deployed their devices off Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head, North Carolina, on Sunday, April 3, with support from experts from the Coastal Studies Institute (CSI), which hosted the final prize stage. All devices successfully produced water as designed. Due to unpredicted wind gusts, the devices became untethered from their test locations on Sunday night and Monday morning, and were subsequently retrieved from the water. 

The results from this testing will help WPTO, NREL, and CSI identify future research opportunities, such as on flexible and resilient mooring systems, which anchor devices in place. 

Oneka Technologies received the best overall score and $500,000 from the prize pool. DOE also awarded prizes in the following categories:  

Lowest weight: Awarded to the team with the lightest container delivered to the test site. 

  • WATER BROS ($125,000) 

Most water: Awarded to the team that produced the most water.  

  • Oneka Technologies ($125,000) 

Simplest assembly: Split between teams based on the fastest and simplest device assembly.  

  • Oneka Technologies ($80,000) 
  • MarkZero Prototypes ($20,000) 
  • WATER BROS ($17,000) 
  • Project 816 ($9,000) 

Simplest deployment: Split between teams based on the fastest and simplest deployment. 

  • MarkZero Prototypes ($38,000) 
  • WATER BROS ($36,000) 
  • Project 816 ($26,000) 
  • Oneka Technologies ($24,000)  

Grand prize winner Oneka Technologies’ Oneka Snowflake, the Wave-Powered Watermaker, is a circular, raft-like device that can be assembled without tools, is easily installed, adapts to most ocean conditions, and is designed to produce up to 10,000 liters of clean water per week (enough for about 450 people)—making it ideal for disaster and recovery situations. 

Additional Waves to Water finalists include:  

  • MarkZero Prototypes’ rapidly deployable MZSP Freshwater Production System, which features pivoting arms; inflatable pontoons; an onboard, reverse-osmosis system (to turn salt water into freshwater); and a constant-pressure, variable-moment pump—all designed to meet the changing demands of diverse ocean conditions. 
  • Project 816’s Ballast, Buoys, and Borrowing from Archimedes device, which can be deployed in a variety of site conditions by just two people with common equipment and basic tools and employs an inflatable, raft-based wave energy converter built with commercial, off-the-shelf components that power a land-based desalination system. 
  • WATER BROS’ Wave Actuated, Tethered, Emergency Response, Buoyant Reverse Osmosis System (WATER BROS), which is a wave-powered device that has a unidirectional, rotational wave energy conversion mechanism, uses near-shore waves to generate clean drinking water even in the harshest of conditions, and has the potential to be rapidly deployable, low cost, and highly resilient—optimal for emergency response. 

Competing teams received support throughout the challenge from Engineering for Change, International Desalination Association, Janicki Industries, Google, Wood Next Foundation, Creative Destruction Lab, Dominion Energy, Surfline, National Hydropower Association, Outer Banks Woman’s Club, and the Town of Nags Head. Following the prize’s launch in 2019, DOE received 66 submissions from a wide range of innovators—from individuals to academic teams to small businesses.  

Learn more about the finalist wave-powered desalination devices and the Waves to Water Prize.