Environment

Elon Musk's $100-million Carbon Removal XPrize announces first winners

Elon Musk's $100-million Carbo...
The $100-million Carbon Removal XPrize offers cash prizes for technological concepts that capture CO2 from the air
The $100-million Carbon Removal XPrize offers cash prizes for technological concepts that capture CO2 from the air
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The $100-million Carbon Removal XPrize offers cash prizes for technological concepts that capture CO2 from the air
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The $100-million Carbon Removal XPrize offers cash prizes for technological concepts that capture CO2 from the air
The Acid Project team from the University of Miami
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The Acid Project team from the University of Miami
Skyrenu Technologies aims to process waste from asbestos mines as part of its CO2 removal operations
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Skyrenu Technologies aims to process waste from asbestos mines as part of its CO2 removal operations
The Carbon Down Under team in the lab at Southern Illinois University
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The Carbon Down Under team in the lab at Southern Illinois University
E-quester claims to have come up with a design for a DAC reactor that is 16 percent more efficient than commercially available versions, thanks to a novel electrochemical regeneration system
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E-quester claims to have come up with a design for a DAC reactor that is 16 percent more efficient than commercially available versions, thanks to a novel electrochemical regeneration system
Blue Symbiosis aims to repurpose old gas and oil rigs for use as seaweed farming infrastructure
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Blue Symbiosis aims to repurpose old gas and oil rigs for use as seaweed farming infrastructure
Skyrenu Technologies aims to process waste from asbestos mines as part of its CO2 removal operations
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Skyrenu Technologies aims to process waste from asbestos mines as part of its CO2 removal operations
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The largest XPrize competition ever conducted has given out its first prize money, with 23 student teams receiving cash injections to further their carbon removal technologies. Among the winners are a mix of forward-thinking projects that take aim at the problem of mounting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and several that look to solve more than one environmental problem at a time

The US$100-million Carbon Removal XPrize kicked off back in February, and is aimed at accelerating technologies that can remove CO2 from the ocean and the air. Funded by Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the contest will take place across four years and see competing teams demonstrate not just how carbon can be captured from the air, but safely stored for a minimum of 100 years.

As part of the broader competition, $5 million was set aside for a Student Awards purse. The thinking behind this was to inspire the next generation of climate innovators, and 195 teams from 44 countries threw their hats into the ring. Their submissions involved detailed proposals on their technologies to convince a panel of judges that not only were they scientifically viable, but that the students had the technical know-how to execute on their plans.

Twenty-three teams were selected as winners, 18 of which were handed $250,000 to continue developing their technologies with the option of competing in the main competition. Five others were awarded $100,000 to develop their technologies designed to support the measurement, reporting or verification of carbon removal in a broader sense. Let's take a look at some interesting examples from this crop of winners.

CO2 to power asbestos removal

Skyrenu Technologies aims to process waste from asbestos mines as part of its CO2 removal operations
Skyrenu Technologies aims to process waste from asbestos mines as part of its CO2 removal operations

Skyrenu Technologies from Canada's Universite De Sherbrooke and Inrs-Eau Terre Environnement Research Centre hopes to use a direct air capture (DAC) system to solve two problems at once. These reactors are designed to remove CO2 from the ambient air, and the team's version funnels the high-concentration gaseous CO2 into a separate device where it combines with mine tailings to produce carbonated rocks for easy storage.

It plans to install these directly at mine waste sites to minimize transport, and its first port of call will be abandoned asbestos mines in Quebec, hoping to reduce health hazards from the residue. The process will be powered by renewable energy, and the team says two gigatons of existing tailings at the asbestos mines offer 700 metric tons of CO2 removal potential.

Old oil rigs as seaweed farms

Blue Symbiosis aims to repurpose old gas and oil rigs for use as seaweed farming infrastructure
Blue Symbiosis aims to repurpose old gas and oil rigs for use as seaweed farming infrastructure

The Blue Symbiosis team from Australia's University of Tasmania is looking to tap into the natural CO2-absorbing properties of seaweed, by repurposing oil and gas rigs as regenerative farming sites. The offshore platforms provide the trunk, while the seaweed will act as the branches, according to the team. The team aims to scale up production to the point where the system can have a real impact on ocean health, with part of the seaweed to also be used in construction materials such as fire-resilient bricks, enabling the carbon being stored to be quantified.

“I researched the potential of repurposing oil and gas infrastructure to regenerative seaweed sites, which led to the conclusion that this holds real promise for both environmental and commercial reasons,” says team leader Joshua Castle. “Decommissioning oil and gas infrastructure is an emerging AU$60-billion (US$44-billion) problem for governments and industries in which they are expected to share the costs. Seaweed has the potential to deliver vast environmental benefits for ocean health – but if it can’t be scaled, significant impacts on ocean health can’t be realized.

Supercharged DAC

E-quester claims to have come up with a design for a DAC reactor that is 16 percent more efficient than commercially available versions, thanks to a novel electrochemical regeneration system
E-quester claims to have come up with a design for a DAC reactor that is 16 percent more efficient than commercially available versions, thanks to a novel electrochemical regeneration system

DAC systems are shaping up to be a key pillar of carbon removal efforts moving forward, and the E-quester team from the University of Toronto have put forward a version they say is 16 percent more energy efficient than those currently on the market. This hinges on what the team calls a novel electrochemical regeneration system that recycles the captured CO2 to help power the air filtration process, with the pure CO2 it produces able to be put to use or sequestered.

CO2 for ocean de-acidification

The Acid Project team from the University of Miami
The Acid Project team from the University of Miami

One consequence of climate change is the acidification of our oceans, which poses a grave danger to marine ecosystems and coral reefs in particular. The Acid Project team from the University of Miami is taking aim at this problem through what it calls "green hydroxide," which is a low-carbon form of alkalinity made with mining waste products, water and renewable electricity. This can then be added to the ocean to both remove CO2 and reduce acidity.

“Essentially, it’s like one big Alka Seltzer,” says team leader Laura Stieghorst. “When the tablet dissolves in water, it can neutralize acid. Distributing this liquid in the ocean will have a similar effect – and speed up a natural part of the geologic carbon cycle that takes thousands of years. Accelerating it to human-time scales can safely lock away our anthropogenic carbon emissions for more than 100,000 years.”

Locking away plant waste

The Carbon Down Under team in the lab at Southern Illinois University
The Carbon Down Under team in the lab at Southern Illinois University

Global agricultural practices produce gigatons of plant waste every year, from grass clippings to vegetable scraps, which generate CO2 emissions as the material rots away. The Carbon Down Under team from Southern Illinois University are developing a system designed to liquefy this biomass, turning it into a tea-like solution that can be injected into underground voids. Once there, subsurface microbes will consume the solution and stop the CO2 from entering the atmosphere. This has been tested in the lab, with the team to continue experimenting to explore its real-world potential.

“Fundamentally, we are trying to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide by putting carbon deep underground,” says team member Tia Zimmerman. “But what if the tiny creatures that live down there don’t like it? What if they start doing something that adversely affects us on the surface? We don’t yet know what they will do with the carbon, and I want to help find that out.”

Registration for the main Carbon Removal XPrize competition, with $95 million remaining in prize money, is open until December 1. More information is available via the source link below.

Source: XPrize

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9 comments
9 comments
David
Will the anticipated cooling result in conditions similar to what followed the Laki eruption of the 18th century, or do the people involved think they know what they are doing? Is it sound thinking to geo-engineer the atmosphere to reduce one of the two main building blocks of all plant life that has ever lived on Earth? Especially so given that historically CO2 is still comparatively low, and that observed the increase of CO2 has beneficially resulted in a greening of land and increase of crop yields.
guzmanchinky
There can be no question the the increase in CO2 is what's driving up temperatures. The only way for this planet to heal is to pull the CO2 that we have been pumping in back out.
Expanded Viewpoint
From WHERE does the electricity come from that drives these "reclaiming" processes?? How much CO2 is released as opposed to how much is recaptured?? Something smells funny about this.
Robert Kowalski
So far carbon capture was just excuse for oil companies to carry on with business as usual under excuse that they are doing something. For most of projects actual captured CO2 was way of target, many project didn't happen at all.
Karmudjun
Oh the comments you get when you discuss science! But a nice synopsis of the findings NIck - thanks!
Where do carbon neutral or carbon negative innovators get their energy? To adhere to their mission, they attempt to model with either nuclear or organic systems energy - as in wind, solar, tidal, etc. So many new technologies that aren't as efficient as they will be are brought to bear. Oh - and Americans use any old electricity in some of their developments.

Then anticipated cooling of the projected warming could prove to result in post Laki conditions sometime in 2100 or so. But if you are concerned about crop yields, please realize that science has you covered there too! Photosynthesis uses CO2 capture transporters that can pull CO2 out of the air at one quarter of the concentration we have today - much less than was present in the atmosphere at the start of the industrial revolution. Humans and the mammals I've studied have a low tolerance for CO2 increases, as CO2 narcosis results pretty quickly in closed systems. No question that the increased CO2 levels and effects of global warming would promote mammalian mutations to handle higher CO2 levels for those species that survive - but the plant life that would benefit from increased CO2 levels would also have to thrive in the greater heat and the more extreme climatic conditions of flooding and severe wind events - the so called 100 year events that are occurring several times a decade in the USA.
Douglas Rogers
Still, no one is concerned about desert irrigation!
Nelson Hyde Chick
Musk investing in this is just PR for him. Considering his hype of cryptocurrencies and fathering seven children he cares little for the environment.
GregVoevodsky
Nelson Hyde Chick - I'm personally glad Musk is having many smart kids and educated by him. Looking at our government is is obvious that we need smarter people running it. Funny, how Musk has revolutionized 2 industries -e-cars and reusable rockets plus pioneering several other industries. I rather have Musk invest in R and D before any Biden failed new Obama Green failed Deals like Solyndra and Fisker (back for more failed e-SUVs now) each loosing 500 million of US tax payer funds - no thanks. I'm Glad Elon is kicking Bezos, Boeing and other failing rocket builders. Do I want to go to Mars - or even the moon - hell no! Do I want space stations and mining of asteroids - hell yes.
ReservoirPup
@Nelson Hyde Chick - exactly. Besides your points, all his businesses are substantial polluters except maybe PV panels. If he meant what he says, he'd be making bicycles or pedelecs instead of those BEVs and rockets. But when folks are in love with him, they tend to overlook the obvious. He's a salesman first and foremost.