Elon Musk, X Prize unveil $100 million carbon-capture contest

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk celebrates the successful launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on May 30, 2020.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk celebrates the successful launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on May 30, 2020. (Image credit: Saul Martinez/Getty Images)

Elon Musk wants your ideas about how to fight climate change — and he's willing to pay top dollar for them.

The billionaire SpaceX and Tesla chief and his Musk Foundation are funding a new Carbon Removal X Prize to the tune of $100 million — the richest incentive prize in history, according to X Prize officials.

The goal of the four-year contest is to nurture the development of technology that pulls enough heat-trapping carbon dioxide out of the air to take Earth off its disastrous warming trajectory.

Related: What is climate change, and how is it affecting Earth?

"We want to make a truly meaningful impact. Carbon negativity, not neutrality," Musk said in a statement released by the X Prize Foundation. "This is not a theoretical competition; we want teams that will build real systems that can make a measurable impact and scale to a gigaton level. Whatever it takes. Time is of the essence."

Anybody around the world can enter the newly announced competition, the existence of which Musk teased last month. Full guidelines will be released on Earth Day (April 22) — the same day that registration begins — and the contest will run through Earth Day 2025, X Prize officials said. You can learn more about the prize here.

The first big chunk of the $100 million will be doled out in October 2022 — $1 million each to the top 15 teams, as decided by a panel of judges. Around the same time, 25 scholarships worth $200,000 apiece will be awarded to student teams in the competition, X Prize officials said.

The overall winner of the competition will get the grand prize of $50 million, and second and third place will net $20 million and $10 million, respectively.

"The goal of this competition is to inspire entrepreneurs and engineers to build the carbon dioxide removal solutions, many of which have only been discussed and debated," X Prize founder and executive chairman Peter Diamandis said in the same statement. 

"We want to see them built, tested and validated," he added. "We hope this X Prize will activate the public and private sectors to get involved in the same way that the $10 million Ansari X Prize brought about the commercial spaceflight industry."

The Ansari X Prize, which offered $10 million to the first private group that could fly a crewed vehicle to space twice within a two-week span, was won in October 2004 by the team behind SpaceShipOne. Shortly thereafter, Richard Branson licensed SpaceShipOne's technology and built his space tourism company, Virgin Galactic, around it. (Virgin Galactic's six-passenger suborbital spaceliner is known as SpaceShipTwo.)

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook. 

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.