By Hyunjoo Jin and Nichola Groom
(Reuters) – Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk on Thursday offered inventors $ 100 million in prize money to develop ways to fight global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or ocean.
“Right now we only have one planet,” said Musk, CEO of electric car maker Tesla Inc. “Even a 0.1% chance of disaster – why run that risk? It’s crazy ! “
In January, Musk announced his intention to offer $ 100 million in prizes and set the rules for the contest on Thursday, Earth Day. What organizers have called the “biggest incentive prize in history” will run for four years until Earth Day, 2025.
There has been growing interest in carbon capture and storage as global warming has melted glaciers, intensified tropical storms and resulted in “sunny day flooding” of more and more coastal areas. As countries strive to cut emissions, scientists say carbon removal technology will also be crucial to achieving the goal of reducing emissions to zero by 2050.
“Cost and scalability need to be factored in. Is it going to be enough carbon to matter, and can we afford that as a civilization? Those are two things that matter,” Musk said on a video stream that showed him outside, barefoot. a black shirt with water and trees in the background.
Carbon capture projects have already benefited from the support of startups in Silicon Valley, public officials worried about the slow rate of emission reductions, and emitters, including oil companies, seeking to offset their climate impacts.
The technology is not yet commercially viable. Removing carbon can cost more than $ 300 per metric tonne in a world that emits greenhouse gases equivalent to about 50 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. By 2050, some 10 billion tonnes of carbon capture may be needed, according to some estimates.
“I think it’s one of those things that is going to take a while to figure out what the right solution is,” Musk said. “And above all to determine which are the best savings for the elimination of CO2.”
Musk’s $ 100 million XPRIZE Carbon Removal program aims to find a viable solution to removing 1,000 tonnes from the atmosphere per year, with dramatic growth potential.
Applicants must have a plan to sequester carbon for at least 100 years. Organizers said they would receive comments by mid-May and turn the guidelines into rules.
Musk has built a reputation as an environmentally focused industrialist, transforming electric car maker Tesla into the world’s most valuable vehicle company and expanding into solar power so customers can charge their rides without carbon. He had talks about the award with Peter Diamandis, Founder and Executive Chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation.
There are a lot of Silicon Valley startups keen to compete. Venture-backed carbon removal companies raised $ 336.5 million last year, according to PitchBook.
On Monday, XPRIZE announced two winners with a separate $ 20 million prize to develop technologies to convert emissions from power plants into concrete. One is CarbonCure Technologies, based in Canada and backed by segregated funds by Bill Gates, Amazon.com Inc and others.
The United Nations has said carbon removal technology is needed to limit the increase in global warming and avoid catastrophic climate impacts. But some environmentalists have argued that focusing on removing carbon reflects a lack of determination to end the use of fossil fuels.
(Reporting by Nichola Groom and Hyunjoo Jin; editing by Peter Henderson and David Gregorio)