Tesla CEO and Space Exploration Technologies founder Elon Musk has pledged to donate USD$100 million towards a prize for the “best carbon capture technology.” Past statements from the billionaire suggest that one of his key goals is to lower the price of direct-air carbon capture so that it can be used to make synthetic rocket fuels, replacing fossil fuels used currently.
What is Happening?
- Musk says that the details of the prize will be given this week. Experts have suggested that the money should be spread out and spaced out so as to encourage innovators and leave it open-ended long enough so as to further incite “serious players.”
- Simply put, carbon capture technologies aim to collect carbon dioxide so that it doesn’t escape into the atmosphere. The greenhouse gas can be captured from power plants and factories, or directly from the air.
- The technology to use chemical reactions to convert carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon fuels has been around for about 100 years; the difficulty is lowering the cost of the process and figuring out how to power it with clean energy- currently, the cost of securing one ton of carbon using direct air capture can be as high as $600, ABOUT 15 times the price of carbon traded in Europe’s Emissions Trading Scheme.
- According to Bloomberg, there are two ways to bring down the cost. The first way is to work out the problem of scaling up the process by building large plants to give engineers the opportunity to optimise the process. A Canadian company called Carbon Engineering is currently working to build a plant that can capture 1 million tons of carbon each year. The second route is to increase the pace of innovation. Governments can boost funding for research and development, or like Musk, billionaires can launch competitions.
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- Similar competitions have worked in the past. In 1714, the UK government launched a series of prizes called The Longitude Rewards to help develop practical methods for determining the precise longitude of a ship at sea. Such is the entrepreneurial spirit of innovators that participants often ended up spending more money in total developing the technology than the prize itself. Likewise, Elon Musk ’s $100 million prize is likely to lead to many times that amount being invested into developing carbon capture technology.
- Climate models show that some form of negative-emissions technology will be required to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
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