8th February 2021
$100m prize for carbon removal funded by Elon Musk
XPRIZE, a non-profit organisation that hosts competitions for technological development intended to benefit humanity, has today announced a $100m prize for carbon removal sponsored by Elon Musk and the Musk Foundation.
This four-year contest invites innovators and teams from around the world to create and demonstrate a solution that can pull carbon dioxide (CO2) directly from the atmosphere or oceans and lock it away permanently in an environmentally benign way. To win the competition, teams must demonstrate a rigorous and validated scale model of their solution working at a minimum of 1 ton of CO2 removal per day. Further, they must demonstrate the ability of their solution to be economically scaled up, to gigaton levels. According to the organisers, the long-term objective of this XPRIZE is to inspire and help scale collective solutions that combine to achieve a 10 gigaton per year carbon removal target by 2050, helping to fight climate change and restore the Earth's carbon balance.
"We want to make a truly meaningful impact. Carbon negativity, not neutrality," said Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. "The ultimate goal is scalable carbon extraction that is measured based on 'fully considered cost per ton' which includes the environmental impact. This is not a theoretical competition; we want teams to build real systems that make a measurable impact and can scale to a gigaton level. Whatever it takes. Time is of the essence."
"We are challenging engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs to build and demonstrate carbon removal systems that work," said Peter Diamandis, Founder and Executive Chairman of XPRIZE. "Systems that in sub-scale can demonstrate real, viable carbon removal at 1 ton per day, and then show us how those systems can scale (cost effectively) to scale massively to gigaton scale. The goal of this competition is to inspire entrepreneurs and engineers to build the carbon dioxide removal solutions, many of which have only been discussed and debated. We want to see them built, tested, and validated. We hope this will activate the public and private sectors to get involved in the same way that the $10m Ansari XPRIZE brought about a commercial spaceflight industry."
For humanity to reach the Paris Agreement's goal – limiting Earth's temperature rise to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels; and pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 °C – clean energy alone is unlikely to be sufficient. Bold, radical technological innovation and scale up is needed that goes beyond simply limiting CO2 emissions, but actually removes CO2 already in the air and oceans. If the world continues on a business-as-usual path, global average temperatures could increase by 3 to 4°C or even higher by the year 2100.
The full competition guidelines will be announced on 22nd April 2021, which is also Earth Day. On that same day, team registrations will begin. The XPRIZE competition will last for four years, finishing on Earth Day 2025. Teams can submit entries across natural, engineer and hybrid solutions. Judges will evaluate the teams based upon four basic criteria:
1) A working carbon removal prototype that can be rigorously validated, capable of removing at least 1 ton per day.
2) The team's ability to demonstrate to the judges that their solution can economically scale to the gigaton level.
3) The main metric for this competition is fully considered cost per ton, inclusive of whatever considerations are necessary for environmental benefit, permanence, and any value-added products.
4) The final criteria is the length of time that the removed carbon is locked up for. A minimum goal of 100 years is desired.
"Our Earth's changing climate is a fundamental threat to humanity. But it's not too late if we take action now. Human imagination and creativity can shape a brighter and more sustainable future on this planet we call home," said Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPRIZE. "By partnering with Elon and the Musk Foundation, we will crowdsource cost-effective solutions that can scale massively in the real world. Through XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition, the teams are invited to make history and become climate heroes by reshaping our future.
"We are expecting a huge array and diversity of teams from around the world to register and compete," she continued. "What's beautiful about an XPRIZE competition is the diversity of approaches taken by the teams. This is a great fit for carbon removal because there are so many ways to pull CO2 out of the air and oceans. We expect to see approaches like engineered direct air capture, mineralisation and enhanced weathering, natural solutions based on plants, trees, or ocean-focused solutions. We want as many viable, scalable demonstrations now – so we can help the best solutions get to deployment as soon as possible."
At $100m, the prize purse will be the largest incentive prize in history. After 18 months, the top 15 teams will receive $1 million each. The "Milestone Awards" will kickstart team fundraising for their operating budgets to achieve the full-scale demonstrations required. In the same timeframe, a total of 25 scholarships of $200,000 will be distributed to student teams competing. A grand prize winner (1st place) will eventually take $50m, with $20m and $10m being awarded to the second and third place winners, respectively.
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