Teams Ride Wave of Winnings To Succeed in Water Desalination Challenge

Aug. 13, 2021

Waves crashing
Seasoned Waves to Water Prize competitors are developing novel, wave-powered desalination devices that can provide clean drinking water to coastal and island communities as well as in disaster recovery scenarios.

Renewable energy is all around us. Both the sun and the wind help power the United States’ electric grid, but the existing infrastructure may not be able to support all of us—especially in the event of a natural disaster.

Oncoming storms and hurricanes create challenges for remote, coastal, and island communities, like reliable access to energy and drinking water. To help communities overcome these challenges, innovators are tapping into another renewable resource: the power of ocean waves.

To design wave-powered desalination devices that could be used in disaster recovery scenarios and freshwater-scarce coastal and island locations, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) launched the $3.3 million Waves to Water Prize. The five-stage competition incentivizes a diverse group of innovators to create small, modular, cost-competitive desalination systems powered by clean energy from ocean waves.

In February 2021, WPTO selected 10 teams as winners of the competition’s third stage, ADAPT. With a portion of the $800,000 cash prize pool, each team moved on to the fourth (and next to last) CREATE Stage. Three of those 10 winning teams—ReVision, Canvasback Desalination System, and CalWave Power Technologies—have competed in other current DOE marine energy competitions. Now, they are relying on this practice to gain an edge in the Waves to Water challenge.

Practiced Competitors Dive Into New Prize

The California-based ReVision team is not only participating in the Waves to Water competition, they are also simultaneously competing in the Ocean Observing Prize, where they recently advanced to the BUILD Contest. With seven engineers and over a decade of experience in numerical analysis, controls, and hydrokinetic energy (power created from moving water), the team created a desalination system powered by a wave energy converter. Their scalable technology is designed to meet the operational requirements of reverse-osmosis systems, which push saltwater through a membrane to remove impurities, and deliver continuous power output. Now, during the CREATE Stage, the team is refining its design to capture even more power.

Two companies—Wave Venture and Jack’s Plastic Welding—teamed up to create the Canvasback Desalination System. While Ireland-based Wave Venture analyzes the performance of each component within the device, New-Mexico-based Jack’s Plastic Welding Inc. fabricates the body. With their diverse knowledge and experience, the duo engineered their Canvasback Desalination System from standard parts for simple installation and operation. The octagon-shaped, inflatable raft has a compact design for easy transport. On its top, an elastic covering bulges in and out with the motion of the waves, creating enough force to power the reverse-osmosis pump that turns seawater into fresh water.

Wave Venture is also currently competing in the Ocean Observing Prize’s BUILD Contest. Jack’s Plastic Welding previously partnered with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to build rescue rafts for astronauts who land in the ocean.

In 2020, the CalWave Power Technologies Inc. team won the Nautilus Grand Prize from the first Ocean Observing Prize DISCOVER Competition. They also competed in WPTO’s Wave Energy Prize in 2016. For the 2021 Waves to Water competition, the California-based company has designed the CalWave HydroNode. The HydroNode is a lightweight, low-profile, inflatable buoy that can be deployed from a small boat. The device generates power using a winch connected to an anchor on the seabed. As waves rock the device, the motion of the winch produces energy to power a land-based, reverse-osmosis system that can supply about 6 liters of fresh water per hour.

On the Final Laps

Up to seven CREATE Stage winners will share the $500,000 cash prize pool and move on to the final stage of the competition, DRINK. Then, they will have 180 days to build and ship their systems to Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head, North Carolina.

The Coastal Studies Institute, part of the University of North Carolina system, and Jennette’s Pier have partnered with WPTO and NREL to host the prize finalists in North Carolina in April 2022. The pier will serve as the competitors’ main test site where judges will assess how their final designs perform during a 5-day, open-ocean trial.

Competitors are receiving support from prize sponsors, including Janicki Industries, a full-service engineering and manufacturing company that is consulting with teams on how to manufacture their design. Teams can also work with the International Desalination Association, which is connecting them with the desalination community and providing access to technical training seminars. Engineering for Change is providing additional support through mentor recruitment and training materials.

This spotlight article series features competitors from academia, industry, and entrepreneurial contestants who have moved on to the next-to-last stage of this year’s Waves to Water Prize. Learn more about the various Waves to Water ADAPT Stage winners in upcoming and past articles. You can also follow competition news and progress on Twitter @AMCprizes and learn more about NREL’s water power and water treatment research online.