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Elon Musk is giving away $100 million over 4 years in a competition to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere

Isobel Asher Hamilton   

Elon Musk is giving away $100 million over 4 years in a competition to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere
  • Elon Musk's XPRIZE foundation on Monday announced details for a new carbon-capture competition.
  • The competition will give out $100 million over four years, with $50 million to the grand winner.
  • XPRIZE will assess teams on various criteria, including the amount of CO2 removed and energy efficiency.

Last month, Elon Musk pledged $100 million to fund a carbon-capture competition. On Monday, Musk's XPRIZE foundation gave some details of exactly how the money will be divided up.

Entrants are expected to build and demonstrate ways to "pull carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or oceans" and lock away CO2 "permanently in an environmentally benign way," XPRIZE said in a post announcing the competition on Monday.

To win, teams must show they can scale their ideas to "gigaton levels" of carbon dioxide removal, XPRIZE said. It did not give precise details on how contestants would be judged, but it said they would be evaluated on various criteria including "amount of CO2 removed, life cycle analysis of the removal process, energy efficiency, land footprint and sequestration capabilities." Sequestration is another term for capture and storage.

The eventual winner won't get the full $100 million. After an 18-month judging period, the top 15 applicants will each be given $1 million to build "full-scale demonstrations." Out of those 15, the grand winner will receive $50 million, the runner-up $20 million, and third place will get $10 million.

The remaining $5 million will be distributed as $200,000 scholarships for student teams.

Musk first tweeted about the prize in late January, soon after he officially surpassed Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos to become the richest man in the world.

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The competition isn't limited to technology. "Any carbon negative solution is eligible: nature-based, direct air capture, oceans, mineralization, or anything else that sequesters CO2 permanently," XPRIZE said. Planting forests is an example of a nature-based carbon capture project.

The competition would officially open on April 22, when the foundation would release some more specific guidelines for applicants, it said.

XPRIZE noted all the details of the competition were "preliminary and subject to change."

"We want to make a truly meaningful impact. Carbon negativity, not neutrality," Elon Musk said in a widely distributed press statement on Monday.

"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," he added.

A December study published in the journal of Scientific Reports said carbon-capture technology would be vital to combat climate change even if humans stopped putting out emissions, and estimated that we'd have to suck 33 gigatonnes (36.5 billion tons) of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere every year.

XPRIZE has already granted some money through its other competitions. In 2019 it gave a team of scientists $4 million to map the sea floor.


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