Musk Launches $100M Carbon Competition


Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has announced the upcoming XPrize Carbon Removal competition, which invites design teams to create technologies that can remove carbon dioxide from the Earth’s atmospheres and oceans in order to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Touted as the largest incentive prize in history, the competition is funded by Musk and the Musk Foundation and is slated to award $100 million over the course of the contest.

According to the organizers of XPrize, for humanity to reach the Paris Agreements goal of limiting the Earth’s temperature rise to no more than 1.5-2 degrees Celsius (roughly 35-36 degrees Fahrenheit) of preindustrial levels, something beyond limiting carbon emissions must be done, or else by 2100, the global average temperature could increase 6 degrees C.

In order to avoid this increase in temperature and other effects of climate change, the world’s leading scientists report that the planet would need to remove as much as 6 gigatons of CO2 per year by 2030, and 10 gigatons per year by 2050.

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

XPrize Carbon Removal

The global competition is expected to last four years and invites innovators and teams to create and demonstrate solutions that can pull carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or oceans and permanently locks it away in an environmentally benign way.

CEO of XPrize, Anousheh Ansari said, “It’s not too late to use human creativity, innovation, and competition to rewrite our history and create a better future for all of us on this planet we call home.”

Teams can submit any type of natural, engineer or hybrid carbon negative solution, such as nature-based, direct air capture, oceans, mineralization, or anything else that sequesters CO2 permanently. Judges in the competition will evaluate the teams based upon four basic criteria:

  • A working carbon removal prototype that can be rigorously validated and capable of removing at least 1 ton per day;
  • The team’s ability to demonstrate to the judges that their solution can economically scale to the gigaton level;
  • The main metric for this competition is fully considered cost per ton, inclusive of whatever considerations are necessary for environmental benefit, permanence, and value-added products; and
  • The final criteria is the length of time that the removed carbon is locked up for. A minimum goal of 100 years is desired.

While there is a large money incentive behind the competition, it also aims to inspire and help scale efficient solutions for carbon removal, fight climate change and restore the Earth’s carbon balance.

The competition is slated to officially launch on Earth Day (April 22), with team registration opening along with the release of the competition’s full guidelines. About 18 months after the launch, judges will select the 15 top teams, who will each receive $1 million. These Milestone Awards will kickstart team fundraising for operating budgets for the development of the full-scale demonstrations.

At the same time, 25 $200,000 student scholarships will also be distributed to student teams competing.

The remaining incentives will be split amongst the top three finalists of the competition. First prize will receive $50 million, second place will receive $20 million and third place will receive $10 million.

“We hope to push this critical field forward in the same way that the Ansari XPrize moved commercial spaceflight,” said Founder and Executive Chairman of XPrize, Peter H. Diamandis.

Tackling Climate Change

In other efforts to battle climate change, President Joe Biden announced a plan back in November 2020, regarding the global climate crisis and highlighting the then incoming administration’s early priorities.

“From coastal towns to rural farms to urban centers, climate change poses an existential threat—not just to our environment, but to our health, our communities, our national security, and our economic well-being,” the transition document stated.

“It also damages our communities with storms that wreak havoc on our towns and cities and our homes and schools. It puts our national security at risk by leading to regional instability that will require U.S military-supported relief activities and could make areas more vulnerable to terrorist activities.”

At the time, the Biden-Harris transition team was looking at one form of technology it believes will be welcomed by a normally divided Congress: carbon capture and storage (CCS). While the technology isn’t specifically outlined in the transition document, CCS and other forms of negative emission technology has been long promoted by Biden throughout his time as presidential candidate and is noted in his campaign climate plan.

Earlier forms of the plan also mentioned various reforestation, agricultural practices, and also plans to look at battery storage, renewable hydrogen, advanced nuclear and building materials.

Earlier that year, Founder and CEO of Rastegar Property Company, Ari Rastegar, announced the development slated for the intersection of McKinney Avenue and Akard Street in Dallas, Texas, that aimed to change not only the city’s skyline, but its air quality as well.

A 26-story high-rise touting North America’s tallest “living wall” is slated to be a 320-foot wall will reportedly include more than 40,000 plants that will add approximately 1,200 pounds of oxygen to the environment, as well as absorb roughly 1,600 pounds of carbon dioxide.

The wall will include the sensor technology from Zauben, which will monitor moisture and lighting for the plants, which will be housed in mineral wool instead of soil to optimize water use and provide additional building insulation.

In March, researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Karlsruhe, Germany) were involved in a project that’s building a test facility for the active reduction of atmospheric carbon dioxide. This facility would convert CO2 into pure carbon black powder as part of a Negative Carbon Dioxide to Carbon (NECOC) research project.

The project is scheduled to take three years and is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy at 1.5 million euros ($1.65 million).

In May 2019, Dublin-based Silicon Kingdom Holdings and Arizona State University announced an agreement for the deployment of what have been dubbed “mechanical trees,” a technology that would suck carbon dioxide from the air. 

According to ASU, the technology allows the captured gas to be sold for re-use in different applications, including synthetic fuels and enhanced oil recovery. The columns will be built within a year, and will be able to suck up nearly 8,000 cars’ worth of CO2 emissions from the air annually.

What makes the technology—originally developed by Klaus Lackner, director of ASU’s Center for Negative Carbon Emissions, also an ASU engineering professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment—unique is that it does not require mechanical draw to move the air through the system. Rather, the technology uses the wind that blows through the system. The more traditional mechanical draw option is more energy intensive, according to ASU.

According to ASU, the technology is feasibly executable at scale: The cost of capture would be less than $100 per metric ton at scale. SKH plans to set up 12-column device clusters, which will be able to remove 1 metric ton of CO2 per day. The company is aiming to purge 100 metric tons of CO2 per day.

Moving forward, plans include deploying the technology on full-scale farms in different locations, each capable of removing up to 3.8 million metric tons of CO2 annually. The test of the technology will be carried out over the next two years.


Tagged categories: Asia Pacific; Carbon dioxide; Carbon footprint; Climate Control; Climate monitoring; Competitions; Design - Commercial; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Environmental Control; Good Technical Practice; Latin America; North America; Technology; Z-Continents

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.