Oman Humanitarian Desalination Challenge 2020: Competition Intensifies as Judging Phase Set to Begin

The Oman Humanitarian Desalination Challenge is a global water prize offering a $700,000 USD cash reward to the winner. First announced in March 2018, the Challenge seeks delivery of a low-cost, stand-alone, hand-held desalination device, suitable for short-term use and rapid deployment during humanitarian crises.

The aim of the Challenge is to stimulate innovation in small-scale desalination and to contribute to solutions to fresh water scarcity, key areas of focus for organizers MEDRC and The Research Council of Oman (TRC).

            ‘MEDRC has always had a close working relationship with the TRC and it was during one of my many conversations with the then Secretary General, Dr Hilal Al Hinai that the concept for a water research prize such as this was conceived.  At the time we were discussing the potential for existing desalination technologies to become miniaturized in terms of cost, scale and environmental impact. The Oman Humanitarian Desalination Challenge is a direct result of that conversation and is an attempt to focus the transformative potential of desalination technologies on wider humanitarian and development needs,’ said Ciarán Ó Cuinn, MEDRC center director.

A key function of the Challenge is the low barrier to entry, being open to anyone regardless of professional background or expertise. Despite the pandemic, the Oman Humanitarian Desalination Challenge drew global interest this year, with 47 teams from 20 different countries applying, spanning a range of backgrounds including water research centers, private companies and startups, alongside individual innovators and problem solvers.

Judging 2020

Designed to continue each year until 2022 or until a winner is declared, this year’s call for applications opened in February as the first impacts of the COVID-19 virus registered across the world. In recognition of the mass disruption caused by the pandemic, MEDRC extended the closing date for applications from March 26 to May 11, 2020.

From the pool of 47 applicants, and following a preliminary review round, 34 teams progressed to qualify as authorized competitors. These teams now have until October 4, 2020 to submit a video and written narrative, detailing how their innovation meets each of the 7 prize criteria. MEDRC will conduct a review of each submission to determine a shortlist. Shortlisted finalists are required to submit their working devices for testing and final judging.

Returning Finalists from 2019

The winning prize of $700,000 helps to encourage top contenders to enter, but further incentivizes competitors to ‘stay in the race’ and work on refining and optimizing their devices to meet the prize-winning criteria. In 2019, three teams were shortlisted as finalists. Although no winner was declared, all three teams remain committed and are competing again this year.


Solar Dew

SolarDew is a Dutch start-up company consisting of experts in the fields of water, solar, membrane technology, design and business development. Together they have developed a solar water-purification technology to provide an affordable solution for point-of-use desalination.

Hydro Wind Energy

UK entrant Hydro Wind Energy was selected by the World Economic Forum as one of the top 100 startups shaping the 4th Industrial Revolution. The company is creating viable and practical solutions to the global environmental crisis to solve some of the biggest challenges of the 21st century.


Dr. Hunkyun Pak is an award-winning researcher and contributor to published papers and books on desalination. An individual entrant to the Challenge, the South Korean has been developing practical solar stills since 2013.

MEDRC will announce this year’s shortlisted finalists in October 2020.

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The Oman Humanitarian Desalination Challenge is a joint initiative led by MEDRC and the Research Council of Oman with funding provided by the Sultan Qaboos Higher Center for Culture and Science.