SpaceX proprietor and Tesla CEO Elon Musk poses as he arrives on the red carpet for the Axel Springer Awards ceremony, in Berlin, on December 1, 2020.
Britta Pedersen | AFP | Getty Copies
Elon Musk tweeted Thursday he will be “donating $100 million towards a prize for best carbon arrest technology.”
The Tesla and SpaceX boss didn’t provide any specifics beyond the tweet, but said “details next week.” Currency rewards for innovation prizes aren’t new. For example, the XPRIZE Foundation is a nonprofit which facilitates cash prizes to incentivize novelty.
So what’s carbon capture technology?
Carbon capture, utilization and storage or sequestration (CCUS), which is often shortened to “carbon catch,” is a process of removing carbon emissions, to either store or reuse, in order to prevent the emissions from being unveiled into the atmosphere.
Excess carbon dioxide gasses block heat from escaping the Earth’s atmosphere and concern global warming. Since the Industrial Revolution, human activity has increased atmospheric carbon dioxide by 47% and is “the most impressive long-lived ‘forcing’ of climate change,” according to NASA.
The use of a contest to drive innovation in carbon capture technology is “certainly a exact good idea,” said Ahmed F. Ghoniem, a professor at MIT who has a research interest in CO2 capture technologies. Innovation in carbon pinch technology is needed for “reducing the cost and complexity of the technology and improving the overall efficiency,” he told CNBC by email.
Carbon grab is not new. There are currently 21 large-scale CCUS commercial projects around the globe, according to the International Energy Mechanism, a Paris-based intergovernmental energy organization. The first one was set up in 1972.
So far, carbon capture has been a disappointment.
“The story of CCUS has largely been one of unmet prospects: its potential to mitigate climate change has been recognized for decades, but deployment has been slow and so has had only a limited impact on worldwide CO2 emissions,” the International Energy Agency says.
But, that could be changing. “There are clear signs that CCUS may be gaining gripping power,” the IEA says.
The U.S. federal government “supports research and development” of carbon capture both in looking for and assessing the viability of geologic rights to store carbon and in developing technology to better understand what happens to carbon when it is stored for long terms of time, according to the Department of Energy.
Telsa did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
Musk, who is currently significance $180 billion according to Forbes, has signed The Giving Pledge, a public commitment for billionaires to give away the seniority of their wealth to philanthropy, but as of yet has not made significant charitable contributions especially when compared with other billionaires in the same way as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates.