Algae a winner in Elon Musk-funded greenhouse gas competition

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) – From algae farming to the production of a kind of artificial limestone, ideas to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere get a funding boost from renowned entrepreneur Elon Musk.

The developer of the Tesla electric vehicle and the SpaceX rocket company are raffling off a $ 100 million XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition. for the most promising ways to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide by seizing the gas straight out of the air.

The 15 “milestone round” winners in the early stages were announced Friday, and each will receive $ 1 million, a welcome boost for the teams to continue and scale their work.

“What we have said is that you have not given us a million dollars; what you have done is catalyzed investment in this technology,” said Mike Kelland, CEO of Planetary Technologies, a milestone winner seeking to increase ocean ability to absorb carbon dioxide by controlling the increasing acidity of seawater.

The milestone winners are not necessarily ahead or favored for the $ 80 million in final prize money that will be awarded in three years. Until December 1, 2023, anyone can still enter the contest, which was announced a year ago, and potentially get a share of the money.

The last winning team or teams must show that they can remove 1,100 tons (1,000 tons) of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, show how much it would cost to remove up to 1.1 million. tonnes (1 million tonnes) per year and show a way to eliminate billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

A third party – neither the participants nor XPRIZE – will independently validate the submitted work at the grand prize, which will be published on April 20, 2025.

XPRIZE announced $ 5 million in carbon offsets project awards to college students last fall. The milestone winners, announced Friday, suggest a number of ways to remove carbon dioxide through artificial means and by helping nature do much of the work itself.

Planetary Technologies does not look up into the sky but into the ocean to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide. The Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada-based company proposes to use antacids made from metal mining residues to make the ocean more capable of absorbing greenhouse gases.

“If we somehow ignore the ocean – say we’re trying to do this on land, we’re trying to hide it in the ground – we just will not make it,” Kelland said. “It’s a kind of perception of many of these scientists working in this field.”

Durham, North Carolina-based 8 Rivers Capital, sees marine chemistry as a model to replicate. The winning company seeks to capture atmospheric carbon dioxide in calcium carbonate crystals, similar to how the gas dissolved in the ocean helps form mussel shells and limestone.

Company spokesman Adam Goff described the process as “poetic” in a way.

“The calcium cycle is how the earth regulates its CO2 over millions of years. In a way, we are accelerating the natural cycle,” Goff said.

Global Algae, based in Santee, California, won with a plan to grow algae to help restore rainforests that capture huge amounts of carbon dioxide. Algae could be a more efficient and cost-effective alternative to cattle farming and soybean and palm oil crops that are currently on cleared rainforest soil, said Mark Hazlebeck, a principal at the family-owned company.

“We are actually creating more oil and protein while replanting forest at the same time,” Hazlebeck said.

The award is announced as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns in increasingly strong terms against the threat of rising global temperaturesincluding worsening heat, fires, storms and droughts.

“We still need more – more and deeper emission reductions and more reliable, validated carbon removal solutions. That’s why we launched this award,” said Marcius Extavour, Chief Research Officer and Vice President of Climate and Environment at XPRIZE.

XPRIZE is a technology-promoting organization, known in part for a competition that encouraged the development of a privately funded, recyclable spacecraft in 2004. Last year, two teams shared that they were able to capture carbon dioxide from concrete chimneys, an XPRIZE award of $ 15 million..

“Even if we stopped CO2 production, it’s probably still not enough,” XPRIZE founder and CEO Peter Diamandis said in a 2021 chat with Musk posted on the XPRIZE website.. “We need mechanisms for extracting CO2 from the atmosphere and oceans that do not exist right now.”

The risk of climate catastrophes could become “terrible” if the trend of higher greenhouse gas concentrations continues along with human population growth and industrialization, Musk replied.

“It’s probably an unwise experiment to run,” Musk said. “Right now we only have one planet. Although 0.1% chance of disaster, why run that risk? It’s crazy.”

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