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Elon Musk really is giving away $100 million for CO2 removal tech

It'll be four years until we have a winner — but that wait will be worth it for potentially planet-saving technology.

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Elon Musk loves a good internet competition. His latest — as teased last month — seeks to find the best carbon-capturing technology with a grand prize of $100 million. This morning, XPRIZE, a non-profit that works mostly with technological innovation, gave some details the competition, which is, in fact, real.

XPRIZE is teasing the competition as “the largest incentive prize in history.” That may be true, but the winner of the competition won’t actually make $100 million from Elon’s personal purse — though the grand prize of $50 million is nothing to scoff at. Second place will receive $20 million, and third place will receive $10 million.

We won’t know the full results of the competition for quite a while: final judging will be revealed on Earth Day 2025. Hopefully, that gives us enough time to implement the winner’s technology and stop climate change from ravaging the planet.

Scale to match the stakes — That $50 million prize isn’t going to come easy. In order to win the competition, contestants won’t just have to think up a theoretical solution to carbon removal, they’ll have to actually show off their tech on a large scale.

According to the XPRIZE site, teams will need to demonstrate “a rigorous, validated scale model of their carbon removal solution, and further must demonstrate to a team of judges the ability of their solution to economically scale to gigaton levels.” The prototype must be capable of removing at least one ton of carbon dioxide per day.

After an initial 18-month judging period, the panel will choose the 15 top submissions, each of which will receive $1 million to build their ideas into full-scale demonstrations. The final prizes will be given to the top three teams. The remaining $5 million in funding will be given out as $200,000 scholarships for students in the competition.

More to come — The full competition will take four years to complete. That might seem like a long time, but we’re talking a race for technology that could save the planet from fiery destruction. Many companies are going carbon neutral, and that's a good start towards avoiding climate catastrophe; sucking existing carbon out of the atmosphere is much more difficult.

The competition will open on this year’s Earth Day (April 22) and at that point XPRIZE will release more details about finalized rules and other fine print. Four years later we’ll have a winner — and, if all goes well, that winner’s carbon-capture technology could be legitimately world-saving.