Nine Canadian teams among 27 from around the world that seek to turn carbon into an asset—and win $20 million​

Image: Joey Podlubny/JWN

Critical steps are being taken by world leaders to address climate change – and politicians aren’t the only ones taking huge strides in the search for solutions.

The annual global climate change conference is underway in Morocco. At home, Prime Minister Trudeau has declared there will be a price on carbon. These are critical steps.

So too are those being taken by others. Several years ago, a number of energy industry and innovation experts came together to contemplate a future of affordable and reliable energy that doesn’t harm the climate.

They started asking big questions, such as:

  • What if we could turn carbon dioxide (CO2), the leading contributor to climate change and the byproduct of our fossil fuel use, from a waste into an asset.
  • What if we could engage innovators around the world to try to tackle this challenge?

Last year, Canadian and U.S. partners launched a bold initiative: a global competition with $20 million in prize money for the best technologies that convert CO2 into valuable and useful products, such as building materials, chemicals and alternative fuels.

The NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE is a global shout from the mountaintops for innovators to develop revolutionary ideas to reimagine CO2 and help mitigate the impact of fossil fuel. Forty-seven entries from around the globe were received and Canadian entrepreneurs are competing alongside the world’s best. In October, the semifinalists were announced and nine from across Canada are among the 27 teams moving forward.

There are 7.3 billion people on Earth. Most aspire to the lifestyle of the western world. We must find a sustainable energy future as we move towards nine billion-plus people in 2050.

Expansion of clean energy technologies such as wind and solar is critical. But fossil fuels will remain part of the world’s energy mix for the foreseeable future.

Between 2005 and 2013, China added the equivalent of 1.5 times the existing coal generating power in the United States.

India, with a population of 1.25 billion people, wants to replicate China’s growth. Substantial commitments to renewable energy have been made, but India is also on track to build 455 new coal plants. For perspective, Canada has just 15 operational coal-fired power stations.

The challenge these investments pose to the climate is staggering. New approaches to reduce the impact of this fossil fuel use are essential if significant carbon reductions are to be made. Policy approaches like cap and trade and carbon taxes are not enough.

Large-scale prize competitions have a long history of bringing about ground-breaking innovation:

  • Two hundred years ago, Napoleon offered a prize for food preservation in an effort to feed his troops. The winning technology was canning, still in use today.
  • Charles Lindbergh’s famous 1927 flight from New York to Paris was spurred by a $25,000 prize for the first successful flight between the two cities.
  • The $10-million Ansari XPRIZE competition for the first private space flight kick-started the private space industry that now includes Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Addressing climate change offers the same potential for dramatic technology breakthroughs.

The Carbon XPRIZE is sponsored in part by Canada’s Oil Sands Innovation Alliance – COSIA – with leadership from eight companies: Cenovus, ConocoPhillips Canada, Canadian Natural Resources, Devon, Imperial, Nexen, Shell Canada and Suncor.

Yes, the solutions that emerge will hopefully help manage emissions associated with oil sands. But the key will be technologies that address the world’s emissions.

The four-and-a-half-year competition is being run by the XPRIZE Foundation. The California organization is the world leader in running large-scale prize competitions to benefit mankind. Technologies will be required to test on real-world coal and natural gas power plants. The contest will be independently judged by a panel of global experts.

Canada’s leaders say the nation is back as a global contributor. The Carbon XPRIZE has the potential to be a game-changer and a significant Canadian contribution to the world. Not only is it the second largest XPRIZE competition ever, it’s an audacious call to action from the very industry that many pin as the trouble makers.

All of Canada should be proud of the huge strides being made here, from the leadership provided by Canadian companies to make the Carbon XPRIZE a reality to the inspiring effort of our innovators to compete for the prize.

Eric Beynon is an expert on innovation, sustainability and transformative change. He was one of the principal architects of the $20-million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE.

© 2016 Distributed by Troy Media

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