Algae a winner in Elon Musk-funded greenhouse gas contest

Apr 21, 2022, 6:02 PM | Updated: Apr 22, 2022, 8:05 am
FILE - Tesla CEO Elon Musk, left, shakes hands with XPRIZE founder and Executive Chairman Peter Dia...

FILE - Tesla CEO Elon Musk, left, shakes hands with XPRIZE founder and Executive Chairman Peter Diamandis during an XPRIZE presentation event in Los Angeles, May 15, 2019. From algae farming to producing a sort of artificial limestone, ideas for reducing greenhouse gas in the atmosphere are getting a funding boost from famed entrepreneur Musk. The Tesla electric vehicle and SpaceX rocket company developer is bankrolling a $100 million XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition for the most promising ways to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide by grabbing the gas right out of the air. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — From algae farming to producing a sort of artificial limestone, ideas for reducing greenhouse gas in the atmosphere are getting a funding boost from famed entrepreneur Elon Musk.

The Tesla electric vehicle and SpaceX rocket company developer is bankrolling a $100 million XPRIZE Carbon Removal competition for the most promising ways to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide by grabbing the gas right out of the air.

The 15 early-phase “milestone round” winners were announced Friday and each will get $1 million, a welcome boost for the teams to carry on with and scale up their work.

“What we’ve said is you haven’t given us a million bucks; what you’ve done is catalyzed investment in this technology,” said Mike Kelland, CEO of Planetary Technologies, a milestone winner that seeks to increase the ocean’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide by controlling the rising acidity of seawater.

The milestone winners aren’t necessarily ahead or favored for the $80 million in final prize money that will be awarded in three years. Until Dec. 1, 2023, anyone can still jump in the contest, which was announced a year ago, and potentially get a share of that money.

The final winning team or teams will need to show they can remove 1,100 tons (1,000 metric tons) of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year, show how much it would cost to remove up to 1.1 million tons (1 million metric tons) per year and show a path to removing billions of tons of carbon dioxide per year.

A third party — neither the participants nor XPRIZE — will independently validate the work submitted for the grand prize to be announced on April 20, 2025.

XPRIZE announced $5 million in carbon removal project awards to university student teams last fall. The milestone winners announced Friday propose a variety of ways to remove carbon dioxide through artificial means and by helping nature do much of the work herself.

Planetary Technologies isn’t looking up into the sky but down in the ocean to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide. The Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada-based company proposes to use antacids produced from the leftovers of metal mining to make the ocean more able to absorb the greenhouse gas.

“If we kind of ignore the ocean — say we’re trying to do this on land, we’re trying to store it in the ground — we’re just not going to make it,” Kelland said. “That’s sort of the opinion of a lot of these scientists working in this field.”

Durham, North Carolina-based 8 Rivers Capital, sees ocean chemistry as a model to replicate. The winning company seeks to trap atmospheric carbon dioxide in calcium carbonate crystals, similar to how the gas dissolved in the ocean helps form seashells and limestone.

Company spokesperson Adam Goff described the process as “poetic” in a way.

“The calcium cycle is how the earth regulates its CO2 over millions of years. We’re sort of speeding up that natural cycle,” Goff said.

Global Algae, based in Santee, California, won with a plan to cultivate algae to help restore rain forests, which capture huge volumes of carbon dioxide. Algae can be a more efficient and more profitable alternative to the cattle ranching and soy and palm oil crops currently on cleared rain forest land, said Mark Hazlebeck, a principal of the family-owned company.

“We’re actually creating more oil and protein while we’re reforesting at the same time,” Hazlebeck said.

The prize announcement comes as the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns in ever-starker terms of the threat of rising global temperatures, including worsening heat, fires, storms and droughts.

“We still need more — more and deeper emissions cuts, and more reliable, validated carbon removal solutions. That’s why we launched this prize,” said Marcius Extavour, chief scientist and vice president of climate and environment at XPRIZE.

XPRIZE is a technology promotion organization known in part for a contest that encouraged development of a privately funded, reusable spacecraft in 2004. Last year, two teams that showed they could profitably trap carbon dioxide from smokestacks in concrete split a $15 million XPRIZE award.

“Even if we stopped CO2 production, that’s probably still not enough,” XPRIZE founder and executive chairman Peter Diamandis said in a 2021 chat with Musk posted on the XPRIZE website. “We do need mechanisms for extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere and the oceans that don’t exist right now.”

The risk of climate disaster could become “dire” if the trend of higher greenhouse gas concentrations continues alongside human population growth and industrialization, Musk replied.

“It’s probably an unwise experiment to run,” Musk said. “Right now, we’ve only got one planet. Even if 0.1% chance of disaster, why run that risk? It’s crazy.”


Follow Mead Gruver on Twitter at

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


A house lays in the mud after it was washed away by Hurricane Fiona at Villa Esperanza in Salinas, ...
Associated Press

Puerto Ricans await aid, fret about post-hurricane recovery

TOA BAJA, Puerto Rico (AP) — City worker Carmen Medina walked purposefully through the working-class community of Tranquility Village under a brutal sun, with clipboard, survey forms and pen in hand — part of a small army of officials trying to gauge the scope of disaster caused by Hurricane Fiona’s strike on Puerto Rico. She […]
1 day ago
Models wear creations as part of the Benetton women's Spring Summer 2023 collection presented in Mi...
Associated Press

Benetton, Ferrari close Milan Fashion Week with bold moves

MILAN (AP) — Milan Fashion Week closed Sunday after five days of mostly womenswear previews that celebrated diversity and renewal, with more designers of color represented than ever and a host of new talent making their debuts at major fashion houses. The Italian fashion council was also putting the spotlight on sustainability with the return […]
1 day ago
This image released by Warner Bros. Entertainment shows Harry Styles, left, and Florence Pugh in a ...
Associated Press

‘Don’t Worry Darling’ shrugs off drama, opening with $19.2M

After off-screen drama threatened to consume Olivia Wilde’s “Don’t Worry Darling,” the Warner Bros. release opened No. 1 at the box office, debuting with $19.2 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates Sunday. Starring Florence Pugh and Harry Styles, “Don’t Worry Darling” was engulfed by a storm of controversies that revolved around everything from […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

‘Eco-warrior” and Earth First! co-founder Dave Foreman dies

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Dave Foreman, a self-proclaimed eco-warrior who was a prominent member of the radical environmentalism movement and a co-founder of Earth First!, has died. He was 74. The New Mexico-based Rewilding Institute, which Foreman founded as a think tank to develop long-term land conservation plans, said on its website that he died […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Heavy crane topples onto downtown Oklahoma City building

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A 60-ton crane being used to remove a video display board from a downtown Oklahoma City building toppled onto the building that houses several news offices, officials said. The crane’s operator suffered minor injuries in the Saturday afternoon accident. Two other men working in the bucket of a small crane and […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

San Diego County to pay $1.35M over 2018 in-custody death

SAN DIEGO (AP) — San Diego County and other defendants have agreed to pay $1.35 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the mother of a Mexican citizen who died after sheriff’s deputies arrested him in 2018, officials said. The lawsuit filed by Dolores Rosales, of Tijuana, alleged deputies used excessive force when they took […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Algae a winner in Elon Musk-funded greenhouse gas contest