Elon Musk is offering $130 million in prize money for carbon-negative tech

Elon Musk

Yesterday our favourite eccentric entrepreneur Elon Musk revealed the guidelines around his latest scheme for improving humanity, including opening up a four-year competition that will see US$100 million ($129.8 million) in prize money dished out.

The XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition is sponsored by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, and by the Musk Foundation.

It invites inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs to create solutions for safely removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

First announced back in January, the competition opened for entries on Earth Day on Thursday, April 22 — or in the early hours of Friday morning in Australia.

In a statement released in February, Musk explained that the goal is “carbon negativity, not neutrality”.

“This is not a theoretical competition,” he added.

“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,” said Elon Musk, founder and chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX.

The four-year challenge will run until Earth Day 2025.

An initial batch of prize money, totaling up to US$5 million ($6.5 million), will be awarded to student teams in November 2021.

Then, this time next year, the judges will review all submissions and award up to 15 ‘milestone prizes’ of US$1 million ($1.3 million) apiece.

After four years, US$50 million ($64.9 million) will be awarded to the grand prize winner, and US$30 million ($38.9 million) will be distributed between up to three runners up.

To be in the running for the grand prize, entrants must be able to demonstrate a working solution for removing at least 1,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year; model their costs at a scale of 1 million tonnes per year; and show a sustainable pathway to a scale of gigatonnes in the future at low cost.

The competition is open to teams or individual from all over the world. Competitors must simply pay a registration fee of US$250 ($324).

The full competition guidelines are available here.

The announcement comes in the same week that Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke at a global summit on climate change.

While US President Joe Biden made a new pledge to cut emissions by 50% by 2030, Morrison defended Australia’s history of emissions reduction, and did not pledge any changes.

That’s despite pressure from the Biden administration, which called out Australia’s “insufficient” policies on climate change and said we cannot rely solely on new technologies to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Earlier this week, Morrison announced a $539 million funding package for low-emissions technology, with $263.7 million of that intended to be used to fund the development of carbon capture, use and storage.

At a press conference, he repeatedly referred to the “new energy economy”, of net-zero emissions.

Australia will play “a huge part in that” he said, by “backing in the best scientists, the best entrepreneurs, the best pioneers”.


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