The Technology Agnostic CDR XPRIZE (Draft for Review)

Here is a rough draft of what a broad, technology agnostic Prize Design could look like. Please note that this is strictly a draft version meant to stimulate discussion. It in no way reflects a decision of or commitment by XPRIZE to move forward with this type of design. We look forward to all of your feedback!

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The Technology Agnostic CDR XPRIZE

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We are exploring the feasibility of a prize design that is open to a wide range of CDR solution pathways. We need your help:

Identifying specific advantages / disadvantages of broad scope prize designs
Identifying the most meaningful metrics for a prize

Justification of this design

  • Maximize number of viable CDR solutions that can be compete. (Not every solution need have equal chance of winning, but each should have at least a chance, otherwise teams will not enter those solutions).
  • Have winners be determined based on measured performance against key criteria, rather than preferred CDR pathways selected in advance via scope definition
  • Maximize number of viable CDR demonstrations in the competition
  • Identify key evaluation criteria that incentivize solutions that maximize scalability, maximize actual carbon removal, maximize economic value creation, and minimize negative environmental and social impacts
  • Identify key metrics that can be applied to the full range of CDR solutions deemed in­-scope ­­ – in this case, a broad scope.

Key Criteria

The challenge in creating an open prize then is creating metrics that allow for judging without accidentally disadvantaging or prohibiting entire classes of solutions in NETs unintentionally. Of course, some intentional exclusion of classes of NETs that we feel aren’t promising may be acceptable or even advisable).

To do this, we must focus on only the most important criteria, the factors that we believe to be essential elements of any solution we would want to incentivize. Here are these criteria along with brief reasons for each:

Total CO2 removed

  • Competition Metric: tons of CO2 removed during demonstration, or tons of CO2 removed per year


  • Incentivise solutions that have potential to scale AND can already demonstrate meaningful CO2 removal
  • Prove the technology works in a very clear and direct way

Profitability or Economic Potential
Possible Competition Metric:

  • Economic value of CDR minus capex minus opex, or unit profitability


  • Economically viable solutions have best chance to attract investment, be developed, scaled, and deployed in the medium term. Least economically viable solutions may be the slowest to be adopted and deployed.
  • Economic viability is also one of the most audacious challenges for CDR

Minimum Length of Time Sequestered
Possible Competition Metric:

  • E.g. sequestration time must be greater than X years


  • Solutions with maximum climate impact may also have longest carbon sequestration time
  • Need to consider how to evaluate avoided emissions relative to carbon neutral solutions relative to carbon negative solutions

Maximum Land Use

  • Possible Competition Metric: total land use for demonstration must not exceed 10 ha, or land intensity at scale must exceed 100 tons per ha


  • Incentivize solutions that maximize broader environmental sustainability
  • Some CDR pathways risk sparking competition with cropland and established communities for land
  • Encourage land­-intensive solutions to minimize land intensity
  • Another key criteria for a prize is the amount of land that solutions can utilize, since many of the promising pathways currently being considered for carbon negative technologies are projected to require massive land use to achieve scale (i.e. the National Academies Study estimates that achieving 10 GT/year CDR scale for BECCS would require using 40% of all arable land on the planet).
  • Note: This criteria is not intended to rule out biological solutions per se; rather it is intended to force innovation in biological solutions (i.e. ocean-­based or vertical farming) that do not require unrealistic amounts of land to create an impact.

Prize Example
Here is one possible implementation of the above design principles. This is an example only, to illustrate how a prize COULD be built on this premise:

Prize Overview: Remove the most CO2 in a three-­to-­five year “race”, while meeting the key criteria noted above: profitability, land use, and sequestration time

Timeline: This CDR XPRIZE will be a 4­-6 year prize. One way to divide that time is as follows:

Phase 1) “White Paper” Proposal Submission (6­-12 months)
Phase 2) Demonstration Phase (1­-2 years)
Phase 3) Final Field Test (2-­4 years)


  1. White Paper Submission:
    Teams will be responsible for outlining their proposed innovation, specifically with regards to:

a) How it will meet profitability and sequestration thresholds, as well as satisfy land use constraints
b) How they propose to measure and verify the amount of CO2 removed during a 3-­year field trial
c) What an minimum viable product (MVP) for their solution looks like that could be developed during the demonstration phase and how they think that MVP should be judged for suitability to advance to the Demonstration Phase.

Following the white paper submission, 30 teams will advance to the Demonstration Phase and be awarded a milestone prize to fund further develop.

  1. Demonstration Phase:
  • Teams will be required to develop an MVP prototype of their solutions as described in the white paper submission.
  • At the end of this phase, the 10 most promising prototypes with respect to CO2 removal will be advanced to the final field test phase.
  • Each finalist would also receive a larger milestone prize to further develop their solutions.
  1. Final Field Test:

The ten finalist teams will then have a 3-­5 year window to remove as much carbon dioxide as possible.

The Grand Prize Winner will be the team that sequesters the most carbon over that time period while meeting the requirements noted above:

  • Profitability = Must achieve “unit profitability”, i.e. the value acquired on the open market for capturing a ton of carbon exceeds the op­ex cost of CO2 capture
  • Land use = No more than 10-­100 hectares of land utilized to capture the carbon (exact figure TBD)
  • Minimum Time of Sequestration = Teams must show that at least 80­-90% of the carbon captured has been or can be sequestered for at least 100 years (exact figures TBD).

While only 1 team will win the Grand Prize, there will be additional “Innovation Prizes” awarded at the discretion of the judges for teams that are unable to win the grand prize but still demonstrate significant achievement in one of the key focus areas for this prize: scale, profitability, and length of sequestration.

Hello everyone, any thoughts on our draft version of a technology agnostic CDR XPRIZE, please?

The prize objectives should focus on the total amount of Carbon sequestered per hectare of area, land or water and cost of sequestration per ton of carbon.

If solution is based in oceans, 1 hectare of Ocean may considered equal to 100 hectares of land in terms of cost, since a ocean based solution is more logical and efficient.

Other criteria should not be used.
Quote from the draft
“Teams must show that at least 80­-90% of the carbon captured has been or can be sequestered for at least 100 years (exact figures TBD).”

This is not necessary, since it will favor industrial solutions against natural solutions.

Natural solutions are less efficient in terms of net sequestration but are more efficient in terms of Gross carbon captured.

A natural / biological / photosynthesis based solution may capture 5,000 tons of Carbon per ha per year but may sequester only 25%.

A industrial / engineered solution may capture less but may sequester more in % terms.

The above draft for the Carbon Removal XPRIZE is well thought out and addresses several key points.

Any approach to removing carbon dioxide from the planet’s atmosphere presents a huge challenge, which includes but is not limited to the following aspects:

  1. energy requirements
  2. environmental impact (including land use)
  3. social impact (including change of land use / displacement of people)
  4. cost
  5. scalability and speed of deployment

All of these factors are important, and so (ideally) should be represented in the metrics and evaluation process. (However, some of these are difficult to measure and the decision maker has the difficult task of assigning relative priorities to each - which others may disagree with.)

So rather than just having the metric of tons of CO2 removed per year, the following might be worthy of inclusion also:

  • tons per hectare per year (removal rate by area and time)
  • tons per $ (cost)

(where cost includes the full environmental and societal costs).

But point 4 inspires this question: Is it wrong to assume that society will pay to remove CO2 from the atmosphere?

Given that [significant parts of] society have been unwilling to address (and pay for) the adoption of alternative clean technologies, it seems unwise to assume that society will pay for any CO2 removal projects that have a significant additional cost.

Therefore, for this approach to be successful, instead of a cost it might be worth encouraging approaches that deliver value [to the environment / society] and/or a financial profit.

Over the decades that this approach may be expected to last, innovation will radically change our approach to everything. So what seems like a good idea in the next decade might be overshadowed by better approaches in the following decades. So this makes the evaluation of the best approach [today] even more difficult. But, if we assume today’s models for society and capitalism prevail then a successful solution might be one that has no cost and instead delivers a valuable product (or service)!

For example, a solar powered factory in the desert (no change of land use or displacement issues) could extract CO2 and turn the carbon into valuable forms (diamond, graphene, carbon nanotubes, etc.). Or in the forthcoming space based era (really taking off in the next decade), massive orbiting solar powered factories suck out CO2 and use advanced carbon products to build space infrastructure, satellites, rockets, etc. Such assemblies in orbit around the Earth present a huge potential cost saving [depending on the approach] compared to launching land based rockets. In other words, such approaches might be financially viable and achievable.

Just a thought :smile:

PS: If society rates the environment, ecosystems and other animals on the planet with equal importance to that of humans then a natural approach might be the best way forward.

Detailed here: Forest Innovations.

regards, Adam
Dr Adam Bostock, Innovation Future Specialist

Thank you @bhaskarmv and @akb, lots of insight in these two posts. I tend to agree with most of what was said above. However, I think I tend to value permanent sequestration more than volume of CO2 capture since ultimately we need to reduce concentrations of atmospheric CO2 and will need long term storage to do so. Terrestrial storage in soil and plants is great and an absolutely necessary component to reach the 10 GT target we keep coming across, but at some point that capture has to be socked away permanently to have an impact on atmospheric CO2.

@akb I totally think you should start blueprinting a carbon space economy competition entry.

Also, we’ll be releasing a couple more prize designs in the next couple of days, be on the look out, I’m interested to get your thoughts how the three designs stack up against one another.

Thank you for your comments @jamesburbridge and as for the blueprint for a carbon space economy let’s ask our friends at XPRIZE if they want to run with this…? I’ll be happy to assist :slight_smile:
Cc: @NickAzer

@akb I’ll float the concept to my colleagues here and see how they feel about CO2 CDR + space colonization: THE ULTIMATE XPRIZE!

My comments are on the draft in a separate doc on the google docs drive. Accessible?

I like the draft and the simplicity of the criteria (CO2 removed, profitability/economic potential, length of time sequestered, maximum land use).
As for the point of accidentally disadvantaging solutions/teams, I would suggest to have an umbrella prize (general carbon removal) that will be split into sub-prizes (e.g. 10 mUS$ WWF natural carbon removal prize). That way we can make clear separation between different solutions.
As for the phases, how did you come up with the number of 30 teams to advance to the demonstration phase? In the proposal, I would also include the cost of the MVP, which gives us a glimpse of the current cost of the solution.
As for the prize, it might be disadvantageous to award a grand prize winner How about having a tiered prize that will be awarded to the top 3-5 teams (1/2 of the prize purse to team 1, 1/4 to team 2, 1/8 to team 3 etc.). I addition to that, the fundraising could stay open during the time of the competition to raise more awareness and increase the stakes during the race.

XPrize has been fantastic for helping create new industries and advancing society through technological innovation.
Climate change is different.
Cooling the earth is about survival of civilization…not just another leap forward.

My suggestion is three steps:

1 : recognize how many years we have to avert climate disaster…everywhere, including wealthy power centers. Everyone has a different number, XPrize needs to decide what their number is…

  1. With that number in mind, the prize needs to be attractive enough to large organizations which might have capability but are not willing to engage because the prize is (relatively) too small to be worth their time. Example of such organizations are the biggest industries, and governments of states and provinces, or small countries.

  2. Engage contacts of XPrize leadership to focus on the all-out effort.

Thank you everyone for the excellent feedback here so far! @bhaskarmv @akb @tobipforr @amalbhattarai We also have a new discussion on “What would the biggest challenges to competing in this prize concept be”; we would love to see any input you might have there as well!

Hi @tobipforr thanks so much for the feedback! Would be curious to get more of your thoughts about how you might propose splitting up the prize purse as you suggest. You mention a sub prize for ‘natural’ solutions. What are the other important categories you think deserve to be recognized?

Hi @amalbhattarai , thanks for your post! Quick follow-up question to your point about making the prize attractive to large industries. What other incentives do you think could be offered in an XPRIZE that would be attractive to such companies? Is it just about making the prize purse larger or do you think there are other features that make the prize more appealing to this audience?

I think the quickest way to find out would be to simply ask representatives of fossil fuel, energy generation, transportation and heavy industry what rewards would be worth investing their resources on mitigating climate change, and note their reaction.

Monetary reward is an obvious positive motivator. But there are negative motivators such as lawsuits, public perception or in case of drastic government action- nationalization.

Of course, this approach requires accepting that there is indeed an emergency!

@DanSelz, I’m on a call tonight with Marcius and Susan. Could you join? Then we can directly exchange on those ideas. If not, I’m happy to set up another call. The first thing that comes to mind with other categories is technological, the most prominent being direct air capture (but should also include direct water capture). Basically all categories discussed at the workshop in March could be a subcategory. But we could also include new ones like bacteria based (I would love to see something with cyano bacteria, which apparently was the cause of O2 being emitted in the atmosphere millions of years ago).

Thank you @tobipforr @amalbhattarai @ghrau @akb @bhaskarmv for all of your input so far! We have two new threads - on minimum carbon dioxide captured and on prioritizing the metrics. Any feedback you all might have on those threads would be greatly appreciated!

Hi @NickAzer, I’ve been exchanging with Marcius Extavour recently on some inputs. Have those found their way to you as well (if not, I can forward them via email)? As for the amount, I don’t know what would be a feasible number. But it should of course be a challenge. As for the metrics, I strongly recommend dividing the prize into different tracks/buckets: technological, natural solutions, and X (in case there would be another “strategic bucket” that would totally make sense. Then it’s much easier to separate the criteria specific for the track and we don’t end up having a “vacuum cleaner” compete with a tree.

The draft looks pretty good.

However, given the need to substantially reduce CO 2, in the next 10-15 years, there is a need for independent data on the relative CO 2 uptake potential of various strategies.

For example, a UC Berkeley researcher has found that a 100-acre plot of biomass sorghum will extract 3 times the CO 2 that a 100-acre stand of newly-planted pine trees would. While I am all for afforestation, consideration should be given for strategies that have the most-near-term impact.

Also, a more reasonable measure of a demonstration should not only be for total tons a strategy removes, but a reasonable demonstration of tons removed/per dollar spent, by strategies which have the potential to scale.

And, there should be no maximum land use limitation, to the extent that the CO 2 uptake activities on large pieces of land are also carrying out other important environmental or social activities, especially those which are generating revenues or qualify for subsidies, which might offset or minimize CO 2 capture costs.

In addition, extra consideration should be given for strategies which reuse and/or sequester the captured carbon in ways which can lessen new CO 2 emissions, such as using that carbon in high-performing, circular economy plastics and composites, which can be used to make strong but lighter and therefore, more fuel efficient cars and planes. Or, using captured carbon to make a clean and renewable bio-coal, which could be co-fired in the remaining coal-fired plants to reduce both pollution and new CO 2 emissions.

Finally, the Grand Prize winner should demonstrate the most cost-effective process, not just the one which has captured the most CO 2. And, environmentally-beneficial reuse of the captured carbon should be given a higher priority than simply sequestering it.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

Hi @josephjjames @tobipforr @amalbhattarai @ghrau @akb @bhaskarmv - we have a new section up for discussion! This new subforum is on Metrics for the Prize; the first thread can be found here and then a follow-up thread can be found here. Looking forward to all of your feedback! Let us know if you have any questions. Thank you for all your comments so far, they have been great!

I agree with @akb 's post discussing cost and value added. I think along with measuring cost, we should also demonstrate how the process will be paid for. This encourages the inclusion of economists and policy analysts to contribute what mechanisms are needed for deployment. It is also good to encourage social scientists to help measure what value is added, what society is willing to pay, and talking into account any unintended consequences (i.e. land use takes away from planting other crops for food, NIMBY, environmental hazards, etc.)

On the technical side, I wonder if the project description is too big. I may be wrong but if the project has to include both capture and storage, that might be a lot for one team to do. It works well for afforestation since capture and storage are both included in that, but DAC and mineralization are both difficult projects on their own. I wonder if it is fair for afforestation to go up against DAC + mineralization.