Carbon XPRIZE Team Semi-Finalists to Transform CO2 Waste into Building Materials, Biofuels and Toothpaste
Things are about to get serious in the quest for $20 million as part of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE. The race to prove that CO2 can become a building block for everyday products from new foundations for sustainable manufacturing to our built environment is in full swing.
The independent judging panel spent the summer poring over the 47 entries submitted from around the world to determine which teams had the best shot at achieving the audacious goal of turning CO2 from a power plant into products with the highest net value. And the results are in: Judges have identified 27 remarkable teams who will move on to Round 2 of the competition.
In true XPRIZE fashion, in Round 2 the bar is raised exponentially, not linearly. Round 1 was about ideas and proposals. Round 2 is about hard core demonstration. Over the next year, each team will be designing, assembling, testing, and refining real systems that take in “flue gas” – the emissions from power plants and industry – and spit out valuable materials and products. From now on, demonstrated performance is the name of the game.
Among these 27 semi-finalists are some pretty remarkable teams and individuals. What impresses us the most at XPRIZE is the incredible diversity of approaches that teams are pursuing. We have always known that an incredible array of products and materials we use every day are carbon-based down at the molecular level. That means that in principle, they could be made using CO2 as a building block. What we didn’t expect was that teams would demonstrate practically every category of product that could be made. For example:
- C2CNF from the USA has a process for making carbon nanotubes;
- C4X from China and Breathe from India have two different approaches to making CO2-based methanol, a potential drop-in fuel;
- Carbon Capture Machine from Scotland has a method of producing CO2-based minerals for concrete and other building materials;
- Pond Technologies Carbon Cyclers from Canada has a bioreactor process to make biofuels;
- Tandem Technical from Canada is producing health supplements, toothpaste, paint and fertilizers
This is just a sliver of the impressive competition. We don’t know yet which team, which approach or which product will prove to be the most carbon-reducing, energy and water efficient, and economically viable. It’s a competition, after all! But one thing we can say for sure is that these semi-finalists prove that we may be on the cusp of transforming CO2 into one of the most important raw materials in the world. And in the process, that CO2 could potentially cease from being a waste product best known for driving climate change. Imagine a future in which purified CO2 is instead known as the source of our buildings, our clothes, our sports equipment, even some of our food!
An XPRIZE is designed to be an extreme challenge. And the challenge before the semi-finalists in the Carbon XPRIZE is among the most difficult we have posed. Think about it: we are asking teams to create valuable products essentially out of thin air! Teams know they will have to overcome the challenge of energy intensity, indirect CO2 emissions, high research and demonstration costs, not to mention safely and economically scaling up a new chemical process. But with 27 teams showing, as the Judges noted, incredible ambition, sophistication and promise, we are more confident than ever that real breakthroughs are about to happen.
Marcius Extavour is the director of technical operations, NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, Energy and Environment Group, XPRIZE, where he leads the operational and technical aspects of the $20M NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE, a global competition for conversion of carbon dioxide from power plants into valuable products.
Paul Bunje is the principal and senior scientist, Energy and Environment group, XPRIZE, where he brings his ability to bridge the gap between science and society to incentivize solutions to diverse challenges facing our world, including climate change, energy, and our ocean. This work includes leading the $2-million Wendy Schmidt Ocean Health XPRIZE and the $20M NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE.