American-Made Challenges

Solar Desalination Prize

The Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has launched a new prize competition to help achieve the goals of the recently announced Water Security Grand Challenge.


The American-Made Challenges: Solar Desalination Prize is a multi-stage prize competition designed to accelerate the development of low-cost desalination systems that use solar-thermal power to produce clean drinking water from saltwater. Each stage of the competition will have increasing prize amounts, totaling millions of dollars.



The Solar Desalination Prize is a four-phase prize competition that will advance thermal desalination technologies to expand the utilization of non-traditional water sources, ensure water security, and improve the resilience of U.S. infrastructure.

The Opportunity

Removing salt from water takes a lot of energy! Many of the largest untapped water resources in the US and around the world cannot be cost-effectively used because of high concentrations of dissolved salts.

Water treatment processes, like reverse osmosis, are efficient when salt concentrations are low, but can’t treat high-salt waters like those that are produced from oil and gas wells, concentrated brines, and some industrial and agricultural wastewaters.

Novel thermal desalination technologies can purify water with very high salt content without dramatically increasing the amount of energy required. By using solar thermal as the energy source, desalination technologies could be used in a variety of important environments, especially in arid areas with high sun exposure, where water purification is especially important.

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.


Who can participate?


Entrepreneurs, technologists, hardware developers, engineers, solar experts, and investors are all encouraged to join the challenge, be part of the American-Made Network and create ground-breaking solutions that will accelerate solar desalination technologies.



Contests & Important Dates


    Timeline graphic for Solar Desalination Prize.

  • 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 12, 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.


Ready for the Challenge?