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Many, La., engineer in running for USAID's Desal Prize

Kate Archer Kent

A company started by a retired engineer from Many, Louisiana, Suns River Technology, is one of eight research groups in the world nominated for the Desal Prize, announced this month.

Hill Kemp, 74, uses solar still technology to purify brackish groundwater and make it safe for drinking.

This competition was set up by USAID, in partnership with the governments of Sweden and The Netherlands. The teams must produce enough water for a farm family in the Jordanian desert.

Kemp says the eight semifinalists will first demonstrate their technology in Alamogordo, New Mexico on a very small plot of land – 30 x 60 feet.

“It’s about the size of your Red River Radio lobby. It can only be renewable energy, no electricity, no fossil fuel. At first it sounded almost impossible. It’s basically pushed me and the other competitors to really push our technology out to the edge,” Kemp said.

Pushing the limits is exactly what prize analyst Jarah Meador of the U.S. Agency for International Development has in mind. This competition is the second phase of the $32 million Securing Water for Food: A Grand Challenge for Development.

Meador says the prize has attracted grassroots problem solvers, like Kemp, who aim to purify salty water on a smaller scale with more efficiency than what the desalination industry can offer today.

“These teams are going to have to develop technologies that can very efficiently desalinate while not precipitating out too much of these individual salts. So, it will definitely be a mixture of feats of chemistry as well as physics to meet our objectives,” Meador said.

In all, 29 countries from around world submitted applications with 19 from developing nations, according to Meador. Next year, three teams will advance to the finals in Jordan. The grand prize is $250,000.

The team lead for the Securing Water for Food challenge, Ku McMahan, wants the Desal Prize to help solve an overall problem of a lack of food and clean water.

“In developing countries, how do we help local farmers use technology and innovative business models to make more food using less water and be more adaptive to climate resilience?” McMahan said.

Kemp says being named a semifinalist gives his technology credibility and a renewed push to bring it to market.

Chuck Smith brings more than 30 years' broadcast and media experience to Red River Radio. He began his career as a radio news reporter and transitioned to television journalism and newsmagazine production. Chuck studied mass communications at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia and motion picture / television production at the University of California at Los Angeles. He has also taught writing for television at York Technical College in Rock Hill, South Carolina and video / film production at Centenary College of Louisiana, Shreveport.
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