Feb 8, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Elon Musk funds $100 million contest for carbon removal

Photo of Elon Musk

Elon Musk at the Axel Springer Awards ceremony on Dec. 1, 2000. Photo: Britta Pedersen / Pool / AFP

Elon Musk is funding a $100 million innovation contest to identify effective and economical ways to remove and store carbon dioxide.

Why it matters: An innovation contest with a nine figure award could help encourage the development of new ways to approach what scientists increasingly agree is one of the most vital ways to address climate change.

Driving the news: This morning XPRIZE, a nonprofit that runs incentive contests meant to solve humanity's biggest challenges, announced the launch of a competition for innovators and teams around the world to demonstrate the ability to draw and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or oceans.

  • The $100 million prize — by far the largest in XPRIZE's history — is sponsored by Elon Musk and the Musk Foundation.
  • The competition comes a couple of weeks after Musk — whose wealth has ballooned in recent years — tweeted about his plans to donate millions to carbon removal technology.

What they're saying: "The math is showing that we need to develop the new capability of removing carbon emissions from anywhere, any time we need it," says Marcius Extavour, who leads XPRIZE's energy efforts. "This is the biggest prize we've ever done by far, but it fits the scale of the challenge."

Details: The contest will officially launch on April 22, Earth Day. It will run for four years and will be open to individuals and teams from academia and business.

  • Teams will be judged on their ability to produce a working prototype that can remove at least 1 ton per day, with the ability to economically scale to the gigaton level.
  • The main criteria will be fully considered cost per ton of removal, with added considerations for environmental benefit and permanence.
  • To that end, judges will look at how long carbon can be safely considered removed, with a minimum goal set at 100 years.
  • The grand prize winner will take home $50 million, with $20 million going to second prize and $10 million for third prize.

Background: XPRIZE takes its inspiration from innovation contests of the past, like a prize established by the British government in the 18th century to find a way to determine longitude at sea.

The bottom line: As Extavour told Axios, "we need dozens or hundreds of approaches to get to where we need to be on carbon removal." Musk's $100 million could get us there faster.

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