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News Release: Devising Wave-Powered Warning Systems: NREL Announces Winners of Ocean Observing Prize DESIGN Contest, Launch of BUILD Contest

April 19, 2021

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is proud to announce the seven winners of the DESIGN Contest, the first of three contests in the Ocean Observing Prize’s DEVELOP Competition.

Today, these marine energy innovators are one step closer to helping protect coastal communities from dangerous storms by conceiving the development of autonomous, wave-powered hurricane monitoring systems. The seven contenders will advance to the BUILD Contest, where they will develop a functioning prototype for water tank testing.

The Powering the Blue Economy™: Ocean Observing Prize is a joint prize between DOE’s Water Power Technologies Office and NOAA’s Integrated Ocean Observing System. NREL and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are supporting DOE and NOAA on both the development and administration of the competition.

From Drawing Board to Workshop

Competitors selected in the DESIGN Contest are now vying for a share of the remaining cash awards of up to $2 million. The BUILD Contest is up next, in which competitors will be tasked with building prototype systems of their concepts. These systems are all working to integrate wave-energy-harvesting capabilities into self-charging autonomous vehicle systems for the purpose of hurricane monitoring.

The seven winners selected to advance to the BUILD Contest and awarded from a prize pool of $400,000 are: 

  • Autonomous Marine Power System (Sacramento, California)
  • EEL Drone (Los Angeles, California)
  • Halona WEC Based Mobile AUV Docking Station (Honolulu, Hawaii)
  • Maiden Wave Energy Rover (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
  • Platypus Prowler (West Palm Beach, Florida)
  • Thaumas — God of the Wonders of the Sea (Menlo Park, California)
  • Wave Powered Oceanographic Gliders (Tallahassee, Florida)

The selected teams will test their functioning prototype in a wave tank in the fall. A total prize pool of $500,000 will be awarded to up to five winning teams.

“We’ve already seen there is a clear opportunity for enhanced hurricane monitoring systems. It is encouraging to see the range of solutions proposed for the DESIGN Contest that aim to enhance our ability to predict the intensity of future storms, which could ultimately have a profound impact on coastal communities,” said Ben Maurer, NREL’s principal investigator for the Ocean Observing Prize. “I look forward to seeing the winning ideas come to life in the BUILD Contest.”

Winners of the BUILD Contest will advance to the final stage of the prize, SPLASH, where competitors will test their prototypes out at sea. Up to three grand prize winners will share a total prize pool of up to $1.5 million.

Comprising a series of competitions with millions of dollars in cash prizes, the Ocean Observing Prize encourages rapid advances in the fields of marine energy and ocean observation, coalescing a diverse community of innovators around the challenge at hand. The prize is designed to be repeatable, with future iterations expected to focus on alternative use cases for marine-energy-powered ocean observing systems.

Follow the Ocean Observing Prize competitors and learn more about NREL’s water power research.

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.