Five engineering teams are competing in Alamogordo, New Mexico, for the chance to win $200,000 in prize funds by coming up with the best way to turn brackish water, or briny inland water, into water that's drinkable by humans and crops alike. (Tweet This) The head-to-head competition will go through Saturday, and the contenders have a chance to receive another $400,000 in U.S. funds to implement the desalination technology in developing countries.
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"The reason we're partnering with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is (that) the same issues faced in India, Bangladesh and other parts of the developing world are very similar to the issues affecting the U.S. Southwest, particularly California," Ku said.
Results are set to be announced around April 22, in conjunction with Earth Day.
The federal government spent a total of about $1.6 million to put the competition together. It retains the right to license the technology, although Ku said the actual technology will be owned by the teams or companies.
Approximately 70 applicants from 29 countries applied to participate in the Desal Prize, and a panel of judges winnowed them down to the finalists. The teams remaining are Atlantis Technologies, EconoPure, GreenDesal, Jain Irrigation Systems/MIT, and University of Texas at El Paso's Center for Inland Desalination Systems.
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The winner of the Desal Prize will field-test a machine that runs solely on renewable energy and that produces no more than 15 percent wastewater. Additionally, judges will look at whether it's cost-efficient, durable and easy to maintain.
Brackish water was selected by organizers—as opposed to seawater—because it's commonly found in inland areas and unfit for human consumption or crops. The poor quality of the water may be the result of farming overuse, or where natural conditions give the water more salinity.