News Release: Waves to Water Prize Announces Grand Prize Winner and Celebrates the DRINK Finale
Today, the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Water Power Technologies Office and National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), East Carolina University’s Coastal Studies Institute (CSI), and prize competitors celebrated the finale of the Waves to Water Prize—a competition designed to accelerate the development of small, modular, wave-energy-powered desalination systems. With one grand prize winner and multiple performance-based prizes, competing teams successfully completed the DRINK Stage and this three-year competition, demonstrating innovative opportunities for marine energy and desalination.
“With perseverance and dedication, the Waves to Water competitors presented new possibilities for marine energy, desalination, and the communities that can benefit from these technologies,” said Scott Jenne, NREL’s principal investigator for the Waves to Water Prize. “This competition shows that wave-powered desalination systems are capable of supplying clean water to people in coastal locations including in disaster recovery situations.”
On April 3, the final four wave-powered desalination devices were safely and successfully deployed in the waters surrounding Jennette’s Pier, which sits on the shores of Nags Head beach in North Carolina. With the help of a crane, CSI and NREL hoisted teams’ devices over the pier’s railing and lowered them into the ocean. Experts from CSI then towed each device to its anchor site, where the prototypes were thoroughly secured for their in-water test.
It was a magnificent moment for each of the finalists. All four of the Waves to Water teams began in the first stage of the prize, CONCEPT, and have been working to advance their designs since 2019. Nearly three years of hard work has paid off, with each of the following devices producing desalinated water while weathering the waves of the Atlantic Ocean:
- 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 raft-like device that can be assembled without tools. Easy to install and adaptable to most ocean conditions, the Snowflake has the potential to produce up to 7,000 liters of clean water per week, which is especially important for disaster and recovery situations.
- 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.
- 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.
Oneka was awarded the $500,000 grand prize.
"This is a really great opportunity for our team and company to get some visibility and credibility,” said Vincent Blanchard, CEP systems designer and operator at Oneka Technologies. “From a technical perspective, we’ve seen all the other competitors’ great ideas, which are completely different from ours. We’ve enjoyed sharing those ideas, information, and technological data and knowledge."
In addition to the grand prize, the following teams were also awarded for their wave-powered water makers’ accomplishments:
- $125,000 awarded to Team WATER BROS for delivering the lightest device
- $125,000 awarded to Team Oneka for producing the most water
- $125,000 awarded across teams for Simplest Assembly. This award was split based on
the time to assemble between all four finalist teams as:
- Oneka: $80,000
- Mark Zero Prototypes LLC: $20,000
- WATER BROS: $17,000
- Project 816: $9,000
- $125,000 awarded across teams for Simplest Deployment and Retrieval. This award was
split based on the scored ease of deployment and retrieval between all four finalist
- Mark Zero Prototypes LLC: $38,000
- WATER BROS: $36,000
- Project 816: $26,000
- Oneka: $24,000
The in-water test was originally scheduled to take place for up to five days. However, due to unexpectedly high winds and aggressive wave conditions, the test concluded earlier than anticipated after all four devices became untethered from their anchor sites in the middle of the night. On the morning of April 4, all four devices were located and secured, with two on land and two in the water near the pier. On April 5, the NREL and CSI crew successfully and safely retrieved the two remaining devices from the water.
Each team had a chance to inspect their devices and determined that minimal repairs were needed to get them back in working order.
The Waves to Water Prize team has always been aware of the risks associated with deploying these devices in the ocean. Unpredictable and variable weather conditions are a reality when working in these harsh conditions. DOE’s Water Power Technologies Office prioritizes funding this critical foundational research and development to help understand these types of environmental constraints and improve upon system processes and technologies. The results from testing these devices will help WPTO, NREL, and CSI identify future research opportunities, such as investigating flexible and resilient mooring systems, which anchor devices in place.
After five stages and $3.3 million in awards, the Waves to Water Prize has helped accelerate the development of small, modular, wave-powered desalination systems capable of providing clean water in disaster and recovery scenarios, as well as in water-scarce coastal and island locations. Competitors’ cutting-edge innovations show promise in helping to address coastal resiliency challenges.
Now that the prize has concluded, Waves to Water finalists can focus on entrepreneurial endeavors, readying their innovations for private investment and commercial scale-up.
The DRINK Finale is the result of a partnership between DOE, NREL, and CSI, which hosted the prize finalists at Jennette’s Pier. These organizations also worked closely to help ensure a fair and safe competition—successfully installing and retrieving competitors’ wave-energy desalination systems.
Competitors in the Waves to Water Prize also received additional support throughout the challenge from Engineering for Change, the International Desalination Association, Janicki Industries, the Wood Next Foundation, the Creative Destruction Lab, Google, Dominion Energy, Surfline, the National Hydropower Association, the Outer Banks Woman’s Club, and the town of Nags Head.
Learn more about the winning wave-powered desalination devices and the Waves to Water Prize.
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.