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Elon Musk is backing a $130 million prize to deal with carbon capture

- February 9, 2021 2 MIN READ
Elon Musk
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has stumped up $130m in prize money to reduce carbon in the atmosphere.
The world’s richest man, Elon Musk and his charitable arm, the Musk Foundation, is backing a US$100 million (A$130m) prize to deal with carbon removal to tackle climate change.

Non-profit XPRIZE, which is running a range of cash prize competitions to tackle global challenges, is launching the $100 million XPRIZE Carbon Removal, a four-year global competition seeking solutions to pull carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or oceans and lock it away permanently in an environmentally benign way, with a goal of locking up the carbon for a minimum of 100 years.

The prize purse kicks off with up to 15 teams receiving US$1 million each 18 months into the competition, alongside 25 $200,000 student scholarships for student teams competing.

The winning idea will ultimately receive US$50 million, with $20m for second place and $10m for third.

The winning concept will need to have developed validated scale model of their solution at a level of carbon removal of 1 ton of CO2 per day, with an ability to economically scale to gigaton levels. The competition’s objective is to help scale solutions that collectively reach a target of 10 gigatons of carbon removal annually by 2050.

Elon Musk said he’s looking for 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,” he said.

“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 founder Peter H. Diamandis said the competition’s goal is to inspire entrepreneurs and engineers to build the carbon dioxide removal solutions that have only, until now, 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 $10 million Ansari XPRIZE brought about the commercial spaceflight industry,” he said.

CEO Anousheh Ansari said that by partnering with Musk and his Foundation, they’ll be able to crowdsource cost-effective solutions to scale.

“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,” he said.

“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 full competition guidelines will be announced on April 22, which is Earth Day, alongside team registrations opening. The competition will last for 4 years through Earth Day 2025

More details on the XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition are available here.