DRINKing It in: Five Teams and Their Desalination Designs Earn a Spot in Final Stage of Waves to Water Prize Competition

Reliable access to fresh water is critical for water-scarce coastal and island communities and those hit hard by natural disasters.

That is why the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) launched the Waves to Water Prize, a competition designed to accelerate the development of small, modular, wave-energy-powered desalination systems. This month, DOE and NREL officially announced the five teams that earned a spot in the fifth and final competition stage, DRINK. Now, these five have 180 days to prepare their devices for an open-ocean trial at the Coastal Studies Institute in North Carolina in April 2022.

“Access to fresh water is becoming more and more critical,” said Scott Jenne, NREL’s principal investigator for the Waves to Water Prize. “This is especially true in remote locations if a natural disaster destroys access to a municipal water supply.”

The Waves to Water Prize is a three-year, $3.3 million competition funded by DOE’s Water Power Technologies Office and run by NREL.

During the most recent 180-day-long fourth stage, CREATE, teams took their desalination ideas from paper to prototype. They built their systems—which included wide-ranging designs like inflatable rafts, undulating seesaws, and a big, yellow, spinning top—and tested the devices’ ability to turn saltwater into fresh drinking water using wave energy. Teams also strategized how to manufacture their prototypes and developed plans to transport and operate them with the agility needed for post-disaster deployment when a quick response can save lives.

The following CREATE Stage winners have each earned $100,000 to build and ship their designs to North Carolina for the final DRINK Stage of the competition:

  • Project 816’s Ballast, Buoys, and Borrowing from Archimedes device can be deployed in a variety of site conditions by just two people with common equipment and basic tools. The inflatable, raft-based wave energy converter—built with commercial, off-the-shelf components—powers a land-based desalination system.
  • Sea Potential’s DUO Wave-Powered Desalination System is an inflatable device that captures energy using a hydraulic cylinder (which uses liquid instead of air or electricity to power mechanics). The device uses that energy to pump seawater through a reverse-osmosis membrane, which extracts salt and other impurities to produce drinkable water.
  • MarkZero Prototypes’ rapidly deployable MZSP Freshwater Production System features pivoting arms, inflatable pontoons, an onboard, reverse-osmosis system (which turns salt water into fresh water), and a constant-pressure, variable-moment pump, all designed to meet the changing demands of diverse ocean conditions.
  • Oneka Technologies’ Oneka Snowflake, the Wave-Powered Watermaker, is a circular, raft-like device that can be assembled without tools. Easy to install and adaptable to most ocean conditions, the Snowflake can produce up to 10,000 liters of clean water per week (enough for about 450 people), which is especially important for disaster and recovery situations.
  • WATER BROS’ Wave Actuated, Tethered, Emergency Response, Buoyant Reverse Osmosis System (WATER BROS) is a wave-powered device that has a unidirectional, rotational wave-energy conversion mechanism. Optimized for emergency response, WATER BROS is not only rapidly deployable, low cost, and highly resilient, but it also uses near-shore waves to generate clean drinking water in even the harshest conditions.

 

Riding the Energy Wave

East Carolina University’s Coastal Studies Institute has partnered with DOE and NREL to host the prize finalists at local landmark Jennette’s Pier in North Carolina in April 2022. The pier will serve as the competitors’ launch and test site where experts will assess how the final designs perform during a five-day, open-ocean trial.

“These innovative technologies have tremendous potential in advancing marine energy solutions for our blue economy and addressing global drinking water challenges,” said George Bonner, the director of the North Carolina Renewable Ocean Energy Program at Coastal Studies Institute, in a press release.

During the DRINK Stage, NREL and the Coastal Studies Institute will evaluate each device for efficiency, ease and speed of shipment and deployment, and ability to handle fickle environments and hostile waves. One winning team will earn the $500,000 grand prize for the best overall system; other teams can earn smaller prizes—adding up to a combined pool of an additional $500,000—for metrics like highest water production, cleanest water, and simplest deployment.

Through the Waves to Water Prize, DOE seeks to accelerate the development of wave-energy-powered desalination systems and encourage creative, interdisciplinary solutions. The prize pairs world-class researchers with an entrepreneurial support system to prime them for private investment and commercial scale-up.

“Our mission,” Jenne said, “is to provide a solution that complements current technology and helps deliver clean water to communities for disaster relief purposes and to remote communities around the globe.”

Competitors in the Waves to Water Prize receive additional support from Engineering for Change, the International Desalination Association, and Janicki Industries.

Learn more about the competitors’ wave-powered desalination devices and follow the Waves to Water Prize as it nears the grand finale.

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for the Energy Department by the Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.

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