$20 Million Xprize Wants to Eliminate Waste Carbon Dioxide

Five out of five climatologists agree—we’re probably going to emit more CO2 than we should if we want to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

Fortunately, there’s a solution—capturing that CO2 and doing something with it. Unfortunately, the “somethings” that we know of are both costly and not that profitable. A new Xprize announced this morning aims to change that. Funded by energy company NRG and COSIA, an industry group representing Canadian oil sands companies, the prize will fund the teams that develop the most valuable ways to turn the most CO2 into something useful.

A smokestack vents emissions to the atmosphere.

“It’s the second largest prize we’ve ever launched,” Paul Bunje, senior scientist of energy and environment at Xprize, told NOVA Next. “It’s a recognition of a couple of things: One is the scale of the challenge at hand—dealing with carbon dioxide emissions is obviously an epic challenge for the entire plant. Secondly, it also recognizes just how difficult, technologically, this challenge is.”

Starting today, teams have nine months to register, and by late 2016, they’ll need to submit technical documentation in support of their plans. A panel of judges will then pick the best 15 in each “track”—one which captures emissions from a coal-fired power plant, the other from a natural gas-fired plant.

The 30 semifinalists will then have to develop laboratory-scale versions of their plans. The best five from each track will receive a $500,000 grant to help fund the next stage, where teams will have to build demonstration-scale facilities that will be attached to working power plants. Four and a half years from now, a winner from each track will be chosen and be awarded $7.5 million.

Bunje, who is leading this Xprize, hopes the prize will show that “CO2 doesn’t just have to be a waste product that drives climate change—rather, that you can make money off of the products from converted CO2,” he said. “That kind of a perception shift will be pretty remarkable.”