Marine Energy Research for Desalination

NREL's marine energy desalination research portfolio identifies key barriers associated with the commercialization of wave-powered desalination and develops solutions that can be adopted by the marine energy industry.


NREL's marine energy desalination work focuses on research and development activities that can inform technical assistance projects while supporting technologies developed by industry and academia. Through this research, NREL aims to build a common solver community by identifying key stakeholders, government agencies, and organizations outside of the marine sector that are needed to develop a robust marine energy desalination industry.


Renewable energy has historically focused on decarbonizing the electricity grid. Marine energy has the potential to one day contribute to a clean energy grid, but it requires further development to become cost-competitive with other renewable technologies, such as solar and wind, in the U.S. grid market. For this reason, NREL researchers are investigating other markets for marine energy—such as desalination.

Numerical Models

Custom numerical models help researchers hypothesize and quantify the risks of integrating marine energy with desalination technologies. NREL uses WEC-Sim to model a range of wave energy converter (WEC) and drivetrain technologies. Tools such as WEC-Sim provide insight into the unique design needs for WECs, allowing researchers to optimize technologies before testing them in the lab or deploying them in the ocean.

Membrane Performance

Compared to other variable renewable energy sources, wave energy is particularly variable. Because waves are irregular in direction, amplitude, and frequency, NREL is investigating how membranes tolerate frequent and large variations in flow and pressure to better understand if wave energy converters can power reverse osmosis systems for desalination. Early experiments are promising. Results show that membranes can handle larger flow and pressure variations than originally anticipated.

Wave-Powered Desalination System

NREL researchers began designing the hydraulic and electric reverse osmosis wave energy converter (HERO WEC) in summer 2020. The device mimics the design parameters that guided Waves to Water Prize competitors, who also built and tested small, modular wave-powered desalination systems. The NREL research team followed the prize guidelines to become more familiar with the competitors' prototype designs and installation requirements.

The HERO WEC aims to make wave-powered desalination technologies more available and affordable through publicly available information and data. The NREL research team hopes that other marine energy experts will continue to build on its work, resulting in solutions for communities that need access to both fresh water and reliable, clean energy.

Laboratory Testing

NREL researchers rely on various laboratory testing facilities and capabilities to advance marine energy desalination research and development, including the:

Dynamometer Facility

Motion Platform

Wave Tank

Membrane Characterization System.


A HERO's Journey: NREL's Wave-Powered Desalination Device Returns to the Outer Banks, News Article (2023)

HERO WEC Information, Design, and Data, OpenEI Webpage (2023)

Securing Our Water Future: NREL's Research in Desalination of Nontraditional Water Sources, Fact Sheet (2022)

Trial by Water: NREL's Wave-Powered Desalination Device Sets Sail, News Article (2022)

Charting the Course: NREL Team To De-risk Desal Device Deployment, News Article (2021)


Performance of Reverse Osmosis Membrane With Large Feed Pressure Fluctuations From a Wave-Driven Desalination System, Desalination (2022)

Summary Report of HERO WEC Test Article for Waves to Water: Electrical Power Take-Off, NREL Technical Report (2022)

Numerical Modeling and Dynamic Analysis of a Wave-Powered Reverse-Osmosis System, Journal of Marine Science and Engineering (2018)

Analysis of a Wave-Powered, Reverse-Osmosis System and Its Economic Availability in the United States, 36th International Conference on Ocean, Offshore, and Arctic Engineering (2017)


Scott Jenne

Researcher IV, Mechanical Engineering