Elon Musk Teams Up With XPRIZE on $100M Carbon Removal Competition

XPRIZE, which is led by Anousheh Ansari, who is also the co-founder of Richardson-based Prodea Systems, is teaming up with Tesla CEO Elon Musk to combat climate change with a four-year competition. Here's how you can register—and potentially win the $50 million Grand Prize.

XPRIZE, a leader in designing and operating incentive competitions to solve humanity’s greatest challenges, has found a new partner in tech mogul Elon Musk.

Together, the duo is launching the $100 Million XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition: a four-year global contest focused on solutions that can pull carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or oceans. It’s the largest incentive prize in the organization’s history. 

The announcement follows Musk sitting down with Peter H. Diamandis, founder and executive chairman of XPRIZE, for a Twitter live stream on the importance of finding carbon removal solutions.

According to XPRIZE, to avoid the cataclysmic effects of climate change we’ll need “gigatonne-scale carbon removal in the coming decades.” The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that will amount to some 10 gigatonnes per year of net carbon dioxide removal by 2050.

Work is already underway by a number of corporations, entrepreneurs, governments, and investors. But XPRIZE sees a need for a range of viable solutions that work at a low cost and massive scale—and is seeking help from innovators worldwide.

“The goal of this CO2 Removal XPRIZE is to turn ideas into demonstration, and turn powerpoint solutions into hardware,” Diamandis said in a statement. “We know that our incentive prize competition models deliver huge philanthropic leverage, typically driving 10x to 40x the prize purse spent by all the teams to achieve the goal. XPRIZE pays for demonstrated solutions versus ideas. So we’re excited to see that same level of impact with this challenge.”

XPRIZE is helmed by technology visionary Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-American engineer who’s also the co-founder and chairwoman of Richardson-based Prodea Systems.

Ansari was named the first female private space explorer in 2017 after financing her own trip to the International Space Station. Her extensive experience has allowed her to not only shatter stereotypes, but make XPRIZE what it is today.

“It’s not too late to use human creativity, innovation, and competition to rewrite our history and create a better future for all of us on this planet we call home,” Ansari said on the competition’s website.

The competition details

Funded by the Musk Foundation, XPRIZE Carbon Removal is aimed at fighting climate change and rebalancing Earth’s carbon cycle. Its creators see this as the biggest threat facing humanity.

The competition is structured into two phases over four years. In the first, teams must show the key component of their carbon removal solutions at smaller scale, not the full operating solution. Any carbon negative solution is eligible to win—nature-based, direct air capture, oceans, mineralization—as long as it achieves net negative emissions, sequesters CO2, and shows a sustainable path to “ultimately achieving gigatonne scale.”

To win the grand prize, XPRIZE said a working solution must be demonstrated at a scale of at least 1000 tonnes removed per year. They must also model their costs at a scale of 1 million tonnes per year and show a pathway to achieving a scale of gigatonnes per year in the future. 

The $100M prize

The money will be distributed in prize purses throughout the competition. Team registration opened on Earth Day, April 22, with the entirety of the contest lasting through Earth Day 2025. 

After a year, judges will review the progress of participants and award up to 15 Milestone Prizes of $1 million each. In the fall of 2021, up to $5 million will be given to student teams to fund their part in XPRIZE Carbon Removal or the development of supportive technologies.

Once solutions are developed, teams can apply to be considered as a finalist in 2024. XPRIZE will then make in-person visits to validate finalists’ projects.

In 2025, judges will choose the winners, giving out $50 million to the single Grand Prize Winner and a total of $30 million to three runners up.

The catch is that teams can enter the competition at any stage over the next few years—XPRIZE said it’s “looking for the best solutions, whether they competed in earlier rounds or not.”

How to sign up

Teams must register by creating a free individual account profile on the XPRIZE Prize Operations Platform (POP), the central portal for competitors during the life cycle of the prize. They can be composed of anyone: university groups, high school students, startups and innovators, small to midsize companies, community-based organizations, families, or individuals.

The following deadlines apply:

  • Registration for the Student Awards will close October 1, 2021
  • Registration for the Milestone Awards will close December 1, 2021
  • Registration for the Grand Prize will close December 1, 2023


On the competition website, Musk, the co-founder and CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, and The Boring Company, hints that the competition is looking for teams to build real systems that can make a measurable impact at a gigaton level. “Whatever it takes. Time is of the essence,” he said. You can go here to explore more.

Get on the list.
Dallas Innovates, every day.

Sign up to keep your eye on what’s new and next in Dallas-Fort Worth, every day.

One quick signup, and you’re done.
View previous emails.

R E A D   N E X T