XPrize details Elon Musk’s $100M prize to fight climate change

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Last month, Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO and richest person in the world Elon Musk announced he’d put a small percentage of his billions toward “a prize for best carbon capture technology.”  On Monday, XPrize announced the broad outline of the competition.

The nonprofit will run the contest, which it says will be the largest incentive prize in history. Teams from anywhere in the world are invited “to create and demonstrate a solution that can pull carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or oceans and lock it away permanently in an environmentally benign way,” according to a post on YouTube.

Carbon capture refers to a wide array of mostly nascent technologies that can take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and either store it somewhere (underground, for example) or convert it into products ranging from fuel to sunglasses.

The goal here is to reduce the overall level of CO2, which is a key driver of climate change.

A new page on the XPrize website announces the basic outline of the competition, which will last for four years and require teams to build “a working carbon removal prototype that can be rigorously validated and capable of removing at least one ton per day.”

Teams will be judged not only on a working prototype, but also on their plan to economically scale the new technology to the gigaton level. (That’s a billion tons.)

Scientists estimate we may need to begin removing several gigatons of carbon from the air per year to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

“We want teams to build real systems that can make a measurable impact at a gigaton level. Whatever it takes. Time is of the essence,” Musk said in a statement.

As with other XPrize competitions, an early round of small prizes will go to student and nonstudent teams to kickstart their prototype development. The remaining $80 million will go to a $50 million grand prize, $20 million for second place and $10 million for third.

The full competition guidelines will be released on Earth Day, April 22.

It’s also worth noting that the separate Carbon XPrize is now in its sixth year and looking to finally wrap up in the coming months. Grand prize winners in three categories will get $7.5 million each.

Musk has supported the XPrize Foundation in the past.

Over the years, Musk has said his two main business ventures, Tesla Motors and SpaceX, are motivated by his desire to address climate change and to provide a backup plan for humanity (on Mars), respectively.

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