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Maui Now : Nearly $2 Million in Federal Funds Awarded for Desalination Project in Hawai‘i

Hawai‘i Ocean Science and Technology Park in Kailua-Kona on Hawai‘i Island. PC: Hawai‘i Ocean Science & Technology Park
Administered by the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawai‘i Authority

The US Department of Energy will award $1.9 million in federal funding to test the viability of solar-thermal desalination on a commercial scale. The project will be located at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawai‘i Authority’s 870-acre Hawai‘i Ocean Science and Technology Park in Kailua-Kona on Hawai‘i Island.

The funding announcement was made today by US Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), who is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Desalination treats seawater, brackish water, and contaminated water for use in municipal and industrial water supplies.

Supporters of the project say it has the potential to lower the average cost of desalinating water by 40% compared to current technologies.

It is funded through the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and has been identified as one of Senator Schatz’s top priorities in the appropriations process. Funding for EERE has been increasing every year since 2013.

“This project combines two very important issues: addressing water shortages and mitigating climate change,” Senator Schatz said. “With this funding, we have the chance to develop desalination methods that are sustainable and even profitable. I’m hopeful that this project will lead to more innovation in this space.”

Today’s desalination operations need to be connected to a power grid, limiting where they can be used. Solar-thermal power, which concentrates sunlight and converts it into heat, has the potential to expand access to desalination by enabling smaller, more portable systems that don’t have to be grid-connected.

NELHA’s mission is to develop and diversify the Hawai‘i’s economy by providing resources and facilities for energy and ocean-related research, education and commercial activities. Ultimately, the system developed through this project will be installed and operated at an oceanic facility and the results will be used to scale up to a commercial-sized facility.

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