Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy

Manufacturing Water: The Next Big Challenge

October 31, 2019

You are here

The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) takes the challenge of providing sufficient quantities of clean and affordable water very seriously. As a result, we have launched a number of efforts to increase access to clean and affordable water from the multi-pronged Water Security Grand Challenge to the focused American-Made Challenge: Solar Desalination Prize.

To encourage innovative solutions that improve water reliability and quality, the White House and DOE launched the Water Security Grand Challenge last year, a research and development framework to meet the global need for safe, secure, and affordable water. Using a coordinated suite of prizes, competitions, and early-stage research and development, over the past 10 months DOE has issued numerous prizes, technical assistance opportunities, and R&D funding to advance progress in the goals of the Challenge.

Earlier this year, the Department launched the Waves to Water prize with a goal to demonstrate small, modular, cost-competitive desalination systems that use the power of ocean waves to provide clean drinking water for disaster recovery and for remote and coastal communities. This four-stage competition that offers up to $2.5 million in cash prizes. Over almost two years, the prize will provide innovators a pathway from initial concept, to technical design, to prototype, to field testing systems that provide clean, abundant drinking water using only waves as a power source.

Last month, Secretary Perry announced that we had selected the National Alliance for Water Innovation to lead an Energy-Water Desalination Hub. The Hub, funded at $100 million over five years (subject to appropriations) by EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, seeks to create energy-efficient desalination technologies at a lower cost for 90 percent of non-traditional water sources within the next 10 years. A major emphasis of the Hub will be distributed energy-water solutions applicable to multiple sectors, including municipal, agricultural, industrial, and oil and gas.

Following the Secretary’s news about the Hub, I had the pleasure of announcing two additional prizes as part of the Challenge: the Wastewater Resource Recovery Prize and the Solar Desalination Prize.

Wastewater treatment plants purchase about $2 billion of electricity each year and face more than $200 billion in future capital investment needs to meet their water-quality objectives, according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Clean Watersheds Needs Survey. Wastewater treatment plants can recover resources, including water and nutrients, and turn them into marketable products. EERE’s Advanced Manufacturing Office is seeking feedback from public and private-sector stakeholders on the design of a Wastewater Resource Recovery Prize. This prize competition would increase resource recovery from small-to-medium-sized municipal wastewater treatment plants across the United States.

Solar power, either in the form of electricity or thermal power, has the potential to help reduce the cost of desalination. The American-Made Challenge: Solar Desalination Prize, funded by EERE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office is a $5 million competition intended to accelerate technology innovation through the design, development, and demonstration of desalination systems that use the sun to generate freshwater from salt water.

These initiatives are designed to harness the entrepreneurial strengths of our nation and accelerate solutions into the marketplace. These awards have the potential to catalyze meaningful contributions to safe, secure, and affordable global water supplies in the future. 

I am proud of the teams across EERE whose work has created these opportunities to make progress on the world’s water challenges.