Funded by Elon Musk, the new XPRIZE will award $100 million for carbon removal innovations to combat climate change. The nonprofit XPRIZE sponsors design competitions to address some of the most significant challenges humanity faces. The company will grant a generous sum of money for the top three carbon capture solutions.

The contest will focus on solutions that can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and oceans. In addition to this, the technology must have the ability to remove the carbon and store it sustainably permanently.

In order to win the competition, teams must prove their solution can remove 1 ton of CO2 per day. The criteria also require the teams to demonstrate a validated, thorough scale model. Finally, they must explain to judges that their solution can economically scale to gigaton levels.

The XPRIZE: A carbon removal challenge

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The goal of the XPRIZE is to inspire viable solutions to capture ten gigatons of carbon per year by 2050. Of course, this will help stave off climate change and “restore the Earth’s carbon balance.”

“We want to make a truly meaningful impact. Carbon negativity, not neutrality. The ultimate goal is scalable carbon extraction that is measured based on the ‘fully considered cost per ton,’ which includes the environmental impact,” said Elon Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla and SpaceX. “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.”

Judges will scientifically evaluate solutions using criteria such as:

– amount of CO2 removed
– life cycle analysis of the removal process
– energy efficiency
– land footprint and sequestration capability

XPRIZE will consider any system that demonstrates a carbon negative solution. Whether it involves direct air capture, oceans, or mineralization, it becomes eligible if it sequesters CO2 permanently.

Carbon removal technologies are a necessity to combat climate change.

Peter Diamandis, the Founder and Executive Chairman of XPRIZE, said, “We are challenging engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs to build and demonstrate carbon removal systems that work. 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 XPRIZE will activate the public and private sectors to get involved in the same way that the $10M Ansari XPRIZE brought about the commercial spaceflight industry.”

The world’s top scientists estimate that we may need to capture around six gigatons of CO2 per year by 2030. They also say that we need to remove ten gigatons by 2050 to avoid climate change’s worst consequences.

“For humanity to reach the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting the Earth’s temperature rise to no more than 1.5˚(C) of pre-industrial levels, or even 2˚(C), we need bold, radical tech innovation and scale up that goes beyond limiting CO2 emissions, but removes CO2 already in the air and oceans. If humanity continues on a business-as-usual path, the global average temperature could increase 6˚(C) by the year 2100,” according to XPRIZE’s website.

Team registration will open on Earth Day, April 22, 2021, along with the full competition guidelines announcement. The competition will last for four years through Earth Day 2025.

Guidelines for distribution of the $100 million in prizes are as follows:

After 18 months, judges will award the top 15 teams selected with $1 million each. Milestone Awards will kickstart team fundraising for their operating budgets to achieve the full-scale demonstrations required to win the prize.

In that timeframe, XPRIZE will distribute a total of 25 $200,000 student scholarships to student teams competing.

The judges will distribute the remaining $80M in prizes as follows:

– Grand Prize Winner (1st Place): $50 million
– 2nd Place: $20 million
– 3rd Place: $10 million

Teams can submit entries utilizing natural, engineer, and hybrid solutions.

Competition judges will evaluate the teams based upon the following four criteria:

1. A working carbon removal prototype that can be rigorously validated to remove at least 1 ton of carbon per day.
2. The team’s ability to demonstrate to the judges that their solution can economically scale to the gigaton level.
3. The primary metric for this competition is fully considered cost per ton, inclusive of whatever considerations are necessary for environmental benefit, permanence, any value-added products; and
4. The final criteria is the length of time that the carbon will remain locked up. Participants should strive for a minimum goal of 100 years.

“Our Earth’s changing climate is a fundamental threat to humanity. But it’s not too late if we take action NOW,” 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 our climate heroes by reshaping our future.”

“We are expecting a huge array and diversity of teams from around the world to register and compete. 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 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.”

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Final thoughts: huge XPRIZE incentive will award $100 million for carbon removal solutions

Without a doubt, climate change is the single largest threat to humanity. However, companies around the world have been working on technologies to reduce carbon in the atmosphere. Elon Musk and XPRIZE will grant the largest incentive prize in history to the top innovators in carbon removal.