Oneka Technologies wins grand prize at US DOE’s wave energy-powered desalination contest

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has unveiled the winners of $1 million in cash prizes in the final stage of the Waves to Water Prize, which challenged competitors to design, build, and test devices that use wave energy to produce clean drinking water from ocean water.

Oneka Technologies team with its wave energy-powered desalination device (Courtesy of US DOE)
Oneka Technologies team with its wave energy-powered desalination device (Courtesy of US DOE)
Oneka Technologies team with its wave energy-powered desalination device (Courtesy of US DOE)

Canada-based Oneka Technologies won the grand prize of $500,000 for its device Oneka Snowflake, with the best-overall score out of four finalists.

The company’s  Oneka Snowflake, dubbed the wave-powered watermaker, is a circular, raft-like device that can be assembled without tools, is easily installed, adapts to most ocean conditions, and is designed to produce up to 10,000 liters of clean water per week (enough for about 450 people) – making it ideal for disaster and recovery situations, the US DOE said.

The department also awarded prizes for other categories, including the one for the team with the lightest container delivered to the test site. Water Bros was declared winner in this category, taking $125,000 from the prize pool. Oneka Technologies also collected $125,000 awarded to the team that produced the most water. 

When it comes to the simplest assembly category, it was split between teams based on the fastest and simplest device assembly, where Oneka Technologies secured $80,000, followed by MarkZero Prototypes with $20,000 cash prize, and Water Bros with $17,000.

MarkZero Prototypes won the biggest prize share in the simplest deployment category, having secured $38,000, followed by Water Bros with $36,000, and Oneka Technologies with $24,000.

Project 816 secured the total of $35,000 in the last two categories.

Kelly Speakes-Backman, principal deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy, said: “Competitors in the Waves to Water Prize have demonstrated innovation and creativity in capturing wave-powered energy, and have also demonstrated the additional humanitarian benefits of marine energy as a key resource to increase access to clean drinking water.

“Renewable, wave energy-powered systems could supply clean water to water-scarce, remote, or island communities that are already particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. These easily shipped desalination systems may also prove to be a crucial lifeline to support resilience and recovery in the face of worsening natural disasters.”   

The five-stage Waves to Water Prize, which is funded by DOE’s Water Power Technologies Office (WPTO) and administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), challenged teams to develop small, modular, wave energy-powered desalination systems and awarded $3.3 million total over the last three years.

The prize represents the first time DOE supported a competition to develop and test devices that can turn ocean water into drinking water using the natural energy in the ocean itself. The competition is part of DOE’s Powering the Blue Economy Initiative, which seeks to develop marine energy systems to support the power needs of coastal and ocean applications. 

Oneka Technologies and three additional finalists safely deployed their devices off Jennette’s Pier in North Carolina on April 3, 2022, with support from experts from the Coastal Studies Institute (CSI), which hosted the final prize stage.

All devices successfully produced water as designed. Due to unpredicted wind gusts, the devices became untethered from their test locations, and were subsequently retrieved from the water, according to US DOE.

The results from this testing will help WPTO, NREL, and CSI identify future research opportunities, such as on flexible and resilient mooring systems, which anchor devices in place.

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