Water scarcity competition offers US$119m incentive to rethink desalination

Article by Aniqah Majid

Bureau of Reclamation
Part of the XPRIZE water scarcity competition involves developing desalination systems that are cost-effective and sustainable for large-scale processing.

XPRIZE has launched a five-year competition aimed at improving large-scale clean water access.   

XPRIZE’s water scarcity competition was developed to address the growing water demand across the world through rethinking seawater desalination systems.  

Around two billion people do not have access to safe drinking water, according to the UN World Water Development Report 2023 

A non-profit organisation, XPRIZE designs and hosts public competitions intended to encourage technological development. With US$119m in the prize pot, competing teams have been tasked to develop new desalination methods and materials that can produce clean water more sustainably and affordably.  

Teams will go through two tracks in the competition, with track A, worth US$70m, requiring teams to sustainably and reliably produce one million litres of potable water from seawater, over the course of a year. 

Track B, worth US$9.5m, involves finding the most cost-effective way to treat seawater using reverse osmosis membranes with an operational lifetime of ten years or more.  

Desalination typically uses reverse osmosis to remove salt and impurities from seawater to produce freshwater.  

However, astronaut and CEO of XPRIZE, Anousheh Ansari, said that current methods are too expensive to effectively scale.  

She said: “The world needs a cutting-edge breakthrough to make desalination a more cost-effective and sustainable solution that could be adopted more widely around the world, enabling people and the environment to prosper.” 

The Mohamed bin Zayed Water Initiative, a new venture launched by the president of the UAE to raise awareness of water scarcity,  has invested US$150m into the competition in partnership with XPRIZE.

Article by Aniqah Majid

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

Recent Editions

Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.