A new contest launched in September 2015 aims to fund projects that convert carbon dioxide waste into useful technologies and products. This year, 47 entrants from seven countries around the world are competing for the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPrize to develop their product. The competitors include university students, startups, and unlikely contenders such as a father and son team and a high school group. The products they’ve managed to create from CO2 thus far range from concrete and carbon nanotubes to biodegradable plastic and fish food.
The contest is being overseen by an advisory board of experts in chemical and biological engineering, energy and sustainability, and public policy. The competition involves three rounds that will take place over the course of four and a half years – in the first round, each submitted project will be judged for its technical and business viability. The competing technologies will be tested in one of two tracks, at either a coal power plant or natural gas facility to demonstrate their capabilities.
In October 2016, up to 15 semifinalists in each track will be announced, and teams can begin to demonstrate their technologies in a testing environment. In the second round, each team will have a chance to demonstrate their project in action in a controlled environment. Up to 5 teams from each track will be selected to split a $2.5 million milestone prize and move up to Round 3. The final round will pose the ultimate test to entrants, involving a demonstration of the technology under real-world conditions. There will be one grand prize winner in each track, awarded a $7.5 million grand prize each.
The contest is one of the many initiatives of the XPrize Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to solving the world’s largest challenges through this type of large-scale competition. Other active competitions include projects to develop artificial intelligence, fully explore the world’s oceans, help improve adult literacy rates, create open source education software, develop a sci-fi style “tricorder” that can monitor and diagnose illness, and create low-cost methods of robotic space exploration.