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$100M Challenge Seeks Carbon Removal Technologies

Climate change skyline

(Gerd Altmann, Pixabay)

8 Feb. 2021. An XPrize challenge competition, sponsored by Elon Musk, is seeking new technologies that remove large quantities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The XPrize Carbon Removal challenge has a total prize purse of $100 million and plans to start receiving team registrations on 22 April 2021, this year’s Earth Day.

The XPrize Carbon Removal challenge is a response to alarming increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from greenhouse gas emissions, which are boosting global temperatures with growing harmful climatic consequences. Challenge organizers note that reaching the 2016 Paris Agreement goals for limiting global temperature increases to 1.5 or even 2 degrees C will likely require going beyond simply reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but actually removing substantial quanitities of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and oceans.

The challenge is a four-year worldwide competition, where teams are asked to demonstrate solutions that take at least one ton of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or oceans each day and safely store it away in an environmentally sound manner. In addition, participants need to show their process can be scaled up to removing a gigaton, or 1 billion metric tons, of carbon dioxide. The ultimate goal of the challenge, say the organizers, is to generate technologies that make it possible to remove six gigatons of carbon dioxide per year by 2030 and 10 gigatons a year by 2050.

Elon Musk, founder of CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, and the Musk Foundation are sponsoring the challenge. “The ultimate goal,” says Musk in an XPrize statement, “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.”

Store carbon for at least 100 years

The competition is open to teams worldwide, with registrations accepted and full rules and guidelines available on 22 April 2021. Teams are expected to prepare a working validated prototype for removing carbon dioxide that extracts one ton per day from the atmosphere or oceans. In addition, teams need to demonstrate their process can be scaled up to remove at least a gigaton of carbon dioxide. Another key criterion is length of time extracted carbon can be safely stored, with a recommended minimum goal of 100 years. And submitted technologies will be evaluated on the fully considered cost per ton that includes environmental benefits, permanence, and products generated from the process that add value.

The XPrize Carbon Removal challenge has a total prize purse of $100 million. From that total and at the judges’ discretion, the 15 top teams will receive $1 million each, after 18 months. Also after 18 months, the top 25 student teams will each receive scholarships of $200,000. The competition’s grand prize winner will receive $50 million, with second and third place winners receiving $20 million and $10 million respectively.

“The goal of this competition,” notes XPrize founder and chairman Peter Diamandis, “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.”

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