Peter Diamandis is saying: 99.999% of people don’t understand or appreciate the ramifications of what is coming and I agree 100% here.

Innovation is the essential component when we are considering how to solve the world’s biggest challenges, and the best place to source revolutionary ideas is from the crowd.  This is something XPRIZE has been doing for over two decades, and is now making a big difference in many areas that matter, not least the field of energy and sustainability with.  They are, for example, running a $20m carbon competition which addresses global CO2 emissions by incentivizing innovative solutions to convert CO2 from a liability into an asset, such as fertilizers, concrete and even toothpaste.

XPRIZE started out about 20 years ago by offering a prize of $10m to the first privately financed team that could fly a passenger vehicle into space.  26 teams from around the world competed for this, with the first rocket taking off in 2004.  The competition was set up to help realise a personal dream of its founder, Peter Diamandis, to be an astronaut.  After lift off he realised there was an opportunity to keep going as there was clearly an appetite from the crowd to take on big planetary scale challenges.  As their platform says “XPRIZE is a facilitator of exponential change. A catalyst for the benefit of humanity” which utilises the innate competitiveness of humanity to bring about breakthroughs which seemed impossible.

The prizes focus on bold, audacious yet achievable goals which target market failure and are winnable by a small team.  They are designed to drive investment in the target field and provide vision and hope.  Past XPRIZES have included Ocean Health and Oil Clean-Up, with potential future competitions being in Road Electrification and Revolutionary Battery. In addition to the Carbon prize there are another 8 competitions currently running, such as Water Abundance which challenges teams to alleviate the global water crisis with energy-efficient technologies that harvest fresh water from the atmosphere.

shoes-co2-xprizeThe Carbon challenge they have set is certainly fits the criteria as a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal); creating valuable products of essentially thin air and is targeting a considerable market failure: fossil fuels causing climate change.  The International Energy Agency estimates 82 percent of the world’s energy supply is derived from fossil fuels.  Currently virtually all the CO2 this produces instantly becomes a waste product which is dumped into the atmosphere. While cleaner energy sources are on the rise, overall energy demand is expected to grow 37 percent by 2040, making immediate carbon mitigation solutions even more urgent.

Teams are challenged to develop breakthrough technologies that convert the most CO2 into one or more products with the highest net value.  In October, the judges narrowed down the 47 Round 1 entries down to 27 teams for Round 2 ‘semi finals’ with these remaining teams coming from around the world and pursuing an incredible diversity of approaches.

Carbon Capture Machine, who are based at Aberdeen University in Scotland, has a method of producing CO2 based minerals for concrete and other building materials; “The technology we have developed here in Aberdeen offers a bridge to a solution that can prevent damage caused by CO2 emissions and create materials to build the homes and offices of the future.” says their team leader Dr Mohammed Imbabi.

“The competition is an exciting way to validate our objectives and show we can compete against other outstanding teams” comments Thomas Digby, the CEO of Swiss based start-up company Aljadix.  They unquestionably fit the criteria of being an entrant with a small team, having only seven staff comprised of academics and start-up entrepreneurs who are aiming to produce carbon negative biofuel which permanently removes carbon from the atmosphere.

Some of the entrants are certainly gaining themselves a high profile. Protein Power from the US are producing high-protein fish food, and their CEO, Lisa Dyson, has a TED talk which has been viewed over one million times.  In this she describes how a technology which was developed in the 60s by NASA to enable long distance space travel by using a clever carbon cycle has been adapted to make crops grow incredibly fast. Using this technique, they can grow in the dark, in any season, geography and location. This is pretty useful is space, but also means as Dyson observes in her TED: “At a large scale, you can actually make 10,000 times more output per land area than you could if you used soybeans.”

By sourcing from the crowd, XPRIZE is enabling a future in which many of the currently seemingly intractable problems we face are solved by innovative enterprises.  Climate change is arguably the biggest problem of our time and by creating a future where purified CO2 is, instead of being seen as a criminal waste, is known as the source of our buildings, food and many other essentials to life.

As they say at XPRIZE: “Call us crazy, but we believe.”

Join me at Crowdsourcing Week Summit Arctic Circle, March 15-19th in Lulea & Vuollerim Sweden, to find out more about the crowd-driven solutions that are revolutionizing our transition toward sustainable energy, reducing resource consumption, and bettering our citizen services and the environment.

 

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