Elon Musk offers $100 million for best carbon capture innovation

Musk is donating $100 million toward a prize for the best carbon capture technology. (Image courtesy of X Prize Foundation.)

Tesla boss Elon Musk is offering $100 million for the winner of a new X Prize Foundation four-year global competition focused developing carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies.

The contest will be awarded to best project to eliminate carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or oceans and store that carbon in a safe, cost-effective way.

“This is not a theoretical competition; we want teams that will build real systems that can make a measurable impact and scale to a gigaton level,” Musk said in Monday’s statement.

The 49-year-old entrepreneur, who has also invested in interplanetary travel with his SpaceX company, recently became the world’s richest person by pushing electric vehicles (EVs) as a way to help reduce carbon-dioxide emissions and slow global warming.

It will run for four years, launching on April 22, 2021 (Earth Day) and run through Earth Day 2025, X Prize says.

Fifteen teams will be selected for the competition within 18 months. They will each get $1 million, and 25 separate $200,000 scholarships will be given to student teams who enter. The grand prize winner will be awarded $50 million, second place will receive $20 million, and third place will get $10 million.

To win, teams must create technology that can remove one tonne (2000 pounds) of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere per day. They will also have to demonstrate how the innovation can be scaled up to be able to eventually remove gigatons of carbon dioxide, X Prize says.

A gigaton is a unit of measuring mass, equal to one billion metric tonnes, or 2.2 trillion pounds. NASA has a couple of explanations that helps to better understand how large a gigaton:

“One gigaton is equal to 10,000 fully-loaded US aircraft carriers or a sheet of ice placed on top of Central Park in Manhattan stacked 1,119 feet high,” NASA says, accompanying this explanation with an animation.

Taken from: Visualizing the Quantities of Climate Change | NASA.

Current carbon capture technologies focus on removing CO₂ from the exhaust of power plants or factories, then burying the greenhouse gas deep to eliminate its contribution to global warming. The method captures only about 0.1% of the world’s total emissions.

The competition wants to spurs innovations that can undo some of the environmental damage already made. In other words, to achieve “net negative emissions”.

Musk first announced that he was donating money towards a prize in January. It is not the first time he cooperates with X Prize to crowdsource innovation solutions to global challenges.

Musk has been collaborating with the non-profit organization for about 10 years. He was a benefactor of the $15 million global learning X Prize, which concluded in 2019. 

The X Prize has been running innovation prizes since 1994 in the areas of space, oceans, learning, health, energy, environment, transportation, safety and robotics.

Elon Musk pledges $100 million-prize carbon removal competition

Sum will be awarded for the best technology created for removing carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or oceans and store that carbon in a safe, cost-effective way.

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