Clean-technology maverick Elon Musk has launched a $100m prize to find a game-changing carbon removal concept, to help drive a rapid reduction in global emissions levels and slow climate change.
The four-year XPrize Carbon Removal competition, sponsored by the multibillionaire via the Musk Foundation, is to be awarded to “ a rigorous, validated scale model of [a] solution” that can capture and store 1 ton of CO2 a day of carbon using a design that is economically scaleable “to gigaton levels”.
“We want to make a truly meaningful impact. Carbon negativity, not neutrality,” said Musk, who is best known for his Tesla electric vehicle and SpaceX project. “The ultimate goal is scalable carbon extraction that is measured based on the ‘fully considered cost per ton’ which includes the environmental impact.
“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. Whatever it takes. Time is of the essence.”
Xprize executive chairman Peter Diamandis added: “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.”
Expectations are that direct air capture, mineralisation and enhanced weathering, as well as natural solutions based on plants, trees, or ocean-focused solutions, will be in the running for the first-ever iteration of the competition.
Anousheh Ansari, CEO of XPrize, said: “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.
“We are expecting a huge array and diversity of teams from around the world to register and compete. This is a great fit for carbon removal because there are so many ways to pull CO2 out of the air and our oceans.
“We expect to see approaches like engineered direct air capture, mineralization and enhanced weathering, natural solutions based on plants, trees, or ocean-focused solutions. We want as many viable scalable demonstrations now so we can all help the best solutions get to deployment as soon as possible.
The purses for the competition, full guidelines for which will be announced on 22 April – which is also Earth Day, will be distributed first as $1m “milestone awards” to 15 teams developing “natural”, “engineer” and “hybrid” solutions, with the grand prize of $80m going to eventual winner, $20m to second place, and $10m to third.
There will also be a total of 25 student scholarship each worth $200,000 that will be awarded.