Climate and Clean Tech | April 25, 2022

Elon Musk’s $100 million XPRIZE awards $15 million to scale carbon removal

Amy Cortese
ImpactAlpha Editor

Amy Cortese

ImpactAlpha, April 25 – The 15 “milestone” winners from nine countries each were awarded $1 million to scale up carbon removal solutions with gigaton potential.

The competition was launched in 2020 by Musk and his foundation to spur innovation in carbon removal solutions from agroforestry and restoration to direct air capture and storage. Final winners will share an $80 million pot in 2025.

“These solutions need to be huge systems and large infrastructure investments,” tweeted Mike Kelland of Nova Scotia-based Planetary, which won for its technology that uses purified mine waste to increase the ocean’s ability to absorb CO2.

To demonstrate demand, Stripe and other companies are collaborating through Frontier to make a $925 million ‘advance market commitment’ for carbon removal.

Carbon tech

Awards went to a mix of known names, such as Verdox, Heirloom and Carbfix, and new entrants.

North Carolina-based Sustaera, which is backed by Breakthrough Energy Ventures and the Grantham Trust, will use the prize to build a demonstration plant that removes 10 tons of carbon per day.

M.I.T. spin-off Takachar develops low-cost, portable equipment to convert waste biomass into solid fuel, fertilizer, and specialty chemicals.

Scaling solutions

The carbontech and removal market could grow to more than $1 trillion, according to the Circular Carbon Network, an XPRIZE research initiative.

The group has identified more than 400 companies in 38 countries working on such solutions. Some 185 of those companies have raised a total $3 billion, with nearly a third of that since 2020. The sector’s first unicorns include IndigoAg, Solugen, Zume, and LanzaTech.

Despite the interest, “there remains a Grand Canyon sized gap between where we are and where we need to be,” the network reports

Catalytic capital

The network reported a 150% surge in investors with a seven-plus year horizon in 2021, and a 65% increase in investors prioritizing Impact. One-fifth of investors are willing to accept lower returns or higher risk for impact. 

The XPRIZE for carbon removal is the largest of its kind. Registration for the grand prize is open through Dec. 1, 2023.

Other XPRIZE competitions funded by Musk include $15 million for feeding the next billion, $10 million for protecting rainforests, $5 million for rapid reskilling, and $1 million for digital learning.