X Prize GraphicThe $20 million Carbon X Prize competition was launched on September 30 at a gala invitation-only event in New York City.

With financial backing largely from clean energy interest NRG and COSIA (Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance), the global competition is designed to incentivize the development of technologies that mitigate the environmental impact of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Two $10 million checks will eventually be written to research teams that demonstrate they can capture CO2 and convert it into useful commercial products. One of the awards is for coal combustion research, and the other is for natural gas combustion.
According to Jim Spiers, NRECA’s vice president for business and technology strategies, the three most likely technologies to become finalists are biofuels, bio-mimicry (building materials), and graphene, a carbon “miracle material” that could make silicon a has-been as a semiconductor.

Spiers, who worked with the X Prize Foundation to develop the competition when he was at Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association (G&T) in Denver, says the winning coal technology will be tested at Dry Fork Station, a 385-MW coal-fired power plant near Gillette, Wyo., owned by Basin Electric Power Cooperative, a nine-state G&T based in Bismarck, N.D. The gas technology will be tested at a site in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, that COSIA will choose.

Counting the $20 million prize purse, the X Prize Foundation’s development costs, and the two test operations, about $65 million will be spent on the endeavor.

Like co-ops, the non-profit X Prize Foundation recognizes “today, and for decades to come, the most affordable and abundant energy will continue to come from fossil fuels, which are the largest contributor to global CO2 emissions.”

The X Prize Foundation leverages corporate philanthropy for radical breakthroughs in technology. The first competition, the Ansari X Prize for Suborbital Spaceflight in 2004, was inspired by the $25,000 Orteig Prize of 1919, which led Charles Lindbergh in 1927 to become the first pilot to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean, launching the modern aviation era.

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