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The American-Made Challenges: Solar Desalination Prize is a four-stage competition designed to accelerate the development of low-cost desalination systems that use solar-thermal power to produce clean water from salt water. Competitors receive cash prizes as they advance through each stage, culminating in a $1 million grand prize for the successful testing and demonstration of a promising solar-thermal desalination system prototype.

Participants may enter the competition as individuals or teams, but all competitors who advance beyond the first stage must form teams. Competitors may include private companies, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, students, and researchers at National Laboratories.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the prize on September 23, 2019. Round 1 was launched on April 28, 2020, and Round 2 was launched on April 12, 2021. DOE is investing $15 million in the two rounds.

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Hear from various U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) technology offices on the subject of desalination.
U.S. Department of Energy


To enter the competition, participants must submit their ideas for a solar-thermal desalination component or system prototype, along with a pathway to commercialization. If their ideas are selected, competitors will receive $50,000 in cash, advance to the second phase to form a team, and refine plans for a fully operating solar-thermal desalination system.

The teams selected to advance to the third phase will receive $250,000 in cash and a $100,000 voucher that can be redeemed at a National Laboratory and/or qualified partner facilities to design their systems. While they’re completing detailed designs of their systems in the third phase, teams must also obtain the permitting and approval documentation necessary to build them.

Teams selected to advance to the fourth and final phase of the competition will be awarded a cash prize of $750,000 and another $100,000 voucher. These teams will then build their systems, demonstrate their operation, and validate key performance metrics. DOE will determine the winner, who will receive a $1 million cash prize.

Competitors can leverage industry expertise, access private capital, and obtain mentorship and support through the American-Made Network, a group of National Laboratories, incubators, investors, and industry experts. The Network also provides access to local capabilities that will help accelerate the development of their desalination system prototypes.


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The Solar Desalination Prize is administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and is part of the American-Made Challenges.