XPRIZE Last-Mile Clean Power

This prize would challenge teams to produce and store renewable and clean energy regardless of infrastructure; accessible to low income communities and scalable.

The competition could include fuel cells for different applications, such as for long-haul ground transportation and buildings.

We would like to learn from you:

  • What are the innovation gaps in this area?
  • What would the winning team need to do? What would be audacious but achievable targets?
  • What is the expected impact of this prize?

Hi @b0bbybaldi, @RegenTower, @Magneto and @adventureashr - In your views is this prize idea audacious enough to be the next XPRIZE? if so, what should be the targets for such a competition.

What innovation gaps in this area should this competition meet?

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@Shashi this is one of those ideas which has had great potential but has not managed to take off for decades due to their high perceived cost them.

I am bullish on the usage of hydrogen as a fuel source, but improvements need to be made in the cost section of its lifecycle, this involving the reduction of electricity cost and increase in efficiency for production, conversion and storage.

Nikola Motors is one of the companies already taking a stab at this problem with their Hydrogen trucks, but like this more is needed, we need solutions for trains, buses, maybe even planes… And all this will require the correct safety framework to provide appropriate consumer backing as well as the infrastructure which is needed.

If there was a way to easily and cost-efficiently convert existing fuel infrastructure and vehicles to Hydrogen then I think that could be a breakthrough for this prize!

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Hi @alanaq, @jwangjun and @dgoldber - In your views, what are the innovation gaps in small, modular, scalable, dispatchable, renewable power production? and if XPRIZE choses to launch a prize in this area, what should the wining team demonstrate?

One of the primary issues at this time is the real cost compared with energy from sources such as natural gas. In addition to natural gas being very cheap, we don’t account for the true environmental and health costs from this source.

In addition to cost, renewable energy from wind and solar is intermittent. So assuming we’re not going to account for the true costs of energy from fossil fuels, the development of lower-cost and environmentally friendly storage systems would aid with our ability to promote and deploy small, modular, scalable, and dispatchable renewable energy systems.

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Thanks @alanaq for sharing your thoughts on this prize. All good points. Just to understand this space further, what would be the expected Impact of such a prize?

With respect to the expected impact, there are a number of ways of looking at this. First, there is a policy component, which would involve accounting for the true cost of energy from non-renewable sources. This would level the playing field and likely lead to lower relative costs for energy from renewables. However, focusing on this aspect of the problem is not what you are looking at. You are focused on a technological solution.

So if we look at the technology side of the issue, what are the factors limiting renewable energy development? For hydro and geothermal it’s the basic resource - there’s only so much water or geothermal resource. Not much we can do here. So looking at wind and solar, they are cost competitive (or close to being cost competitive) with coal and natural gas. However, there are issues with intermittency, which not only limits the ability to dispatch power when you need it but also has a major impact on grid integration. One approach to solving these two issues (intermittency and gris integration) would be low cost storage systems, which was what I had suggested in my earlier post.

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We’re wordsmithing what we call the “winning-team-will statement” for this prize: a succinct description of what a competing team would need to do to win.

Here’s the current version, and I’d appreciate your thoughts:
Develop and dispatch an autonomous, modular, small-scale, efficient power generation system. At the destination, a remote community will assemble the system to generate sufficient electricity to power an induction cooking, a refrigerator, and a washing machine for every household, at a competitive cost.

The next step are drafting the testing and judging criteria for the prize. Here’s what we have so far:

  • Target user: vulnerable and remote communities; target size? 100 people?
  • Utilize local, renewable, clean resources.
  • Highly efficient: 90% efficiency?
  • Produces TBD electricity to power an induction cooking, a refrigerator, and a washing machine for every household. (Connected to all households in the target community)
  • Autonomous systems: minimal human intervention, minimal need for specialized knowledge to operate and maintain.
  • Small-scale - any size limits?
  • Modular, scalable: to allow incremental scalability.
  • Dispatchable (mobile), easy to deploy (e.g., fit within a 20ft. container?)
  • Easy to assemble. Minimal need for specialized knowledge.
  • Storage: Low cost, 12h for individual dwelling.
  • Cost:
    • lower production costs?
    • and/or lower electricity prices?
    • e.g., helping utilities reach remote, lower-income communities?
  • Business plans: scalability and novel business models to help utilities reach remote, lower-income communities.
  • Adoption: how to get people to switch?

@alanaq, @akb, @adventureashr, @carlbozzuto - We would love to have your feedback on the wining team will statement and testing and judging criteria

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You have to be careful in the use of the word “efficiency”. What efficiency are you talking about? In the generation of electricity, the use of heat engines is governed by the second law of thermodynamics (Thot - Tcold)/Thot. This describes the maximum theoretical efficiency of a heat engine. The actual efficiency will always be less than that. The isentropic efficiency is the actual efficiency divided by the theoretical efficiency. For a state of the art steam turbine, the isentropic efficiency is 90%. The actual efficiency is less than 50%. For a good battery, the “round trip” efficiency (power output for delivery divided by power input for charging) is around 85%. For a boiler that burns a fuel, the boiler efficiency is the heat contained in the steam divided by the heat content of the fuel being burned. That figure ranges from 80 - 90%, depending upon the fuel. When combined with a steam turbine, and accounting for auxiliary power requirements (to run the pollution control equipment, etc.) and the generator efficiency, a conventional steam driven power plant is 40% efficient. A gas turbine combined cycle plant is 55 - 57% efficient (ISO conditions, HHV basis, gross output, clean and new). Thus, there are a lot of types of efficiency to be considered. Just using the word efficiency by itself can be relatively meaningless and subject to gaming by the competitors for the prize.


This sounds great, and could be very useful to those billion people that currently have no access to electricity.

“induction cooking [cooker], a refrigerator, and a washing machine” - it’s useful to help people conceptualise what the energy will be used for by providing such examples. In addition, it’s useful to make some typical assumptions about their usage and power requirements so that the challenge can explicitly set minimum requirements for power output (kW) and energy required (e.g. kWh per day).

“Highly efficient” - efficient systems are welcome, of course, but for some solutions this might not be as important. For example, solar power is derived from a “free” source of energy and so efficiency is harder to define and perhaps not as important in this context. Other criteria might indirectly influence the required efficiency though, such as the maximum area, volume, mass and device cost specified in the challenge.

The modular and scalability requirement is a great idea.

Rather than a target size of 100 people, it might be better to quantify how much a “typical” house uses (kW, and kWh/day) and then pick a number of houses to demonstrate it on, across a number of villages in different environments [bearing in mind some villages might be very small]. There might be small villages and larger villages in the challenge - to demonstrate how well a solution does actually scale (and the cost per user implications).

Different environments should, ideally, be used. For example, northern latitudes might not support typical solar powered solutions - unless it includes a very efficient seasonal storage technology to release power in the winter. So this might mean a test duration over an entire year - if such solutions are to be catered for. It’d also test the durability of the energy storage system over time and during harsh environmental conditions.

In terms of the specifications we might want to be mindful that the solution might contain two (or more) parts, e.g. energy collection / generation, and energy storage (and distribution). For example, solar panels on house roofs and a community battery.

Regarding “clean” we might want to expand this to include no pollution, e.g. no emissions to air and no pollution of land or water (surface and groundwater). Similarly, no production of long lived toxic waste in any part of the system (e.g. no dioxins, PCBs, PAH, or radioactive material).


I concur with the other suggestions. In addition, I would suggest:

  • Consider # of households instead of # of people.
  • Provide an estimate of the total energy requirement/household.
  • Describe the routine maintenance requirements rather than stating minimal need for specialized knowledge.
  • Define low-cost.
  • Maybe add in a safety requirement?

Hi @Shepard, @Magneto, @Brad - You might have feedback on the above mentioned wining team will statement and testing and judging criteria.

Thanks, Carl, for the reality check. I would like to add a few more.

  • You may not need electricity to achieve a function. For example, a student at U. of Wisconsin built a refrigerator that ran directly off of sunshine–worked 24 hours/day
  • Heat (or cold) is more easily stored than electricity. A high-quality themal insulation made from local materials could be a major innovation.
  • We must not imagine that our expectations of performance are best for another place and culture. For example, there may be nothing wrong with only washing clothes when the sun shines. Power storage may not be a large need.
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Hmm, “off-grid.” We of privilege use AC power because it works well for grid transmission. If power is generated and consumed locally, there is no need for AC. Low-voltage DC may serve better in some situations, and there is no shock hazard.

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I would like to mention an innovation gap. We need an easily stored and used fuel that can be made locally at small-scale. I should mention coppice wood–are you familiar with that? That might be good in some places and needs, such as for heating. (There is still a need for a low-cost, low-emission wood stove.)
But the best kind of fuel for “local” use is a liquid. In ancient Palestine, that fuel was olive oil. (Jojoba has been proposed–what other plants or algae?)
The fuel that I think has great potential for local manufacture from electricity is methanol. A patent exists for conversion of carbonate to methanol. By the way, carbonate is an optional product from machines that extract CO2 from air. Methanol can be burned for heat or can be used in a fuel cell or in many kinds of engines, and it is easily stored.
A simple closed-cycle process could have the following steps. Formation of sodium carbonate by reaction of sodium hydroxide with air. Then an electrochemical cell converts the sodium carbonate (solution) to methanol with sodium hydroxide as byproduct. This sodium hydroxide solution is used to capture more CO2 from air, and so on. This cycle is the subject of research, and I think no one has the process “solved” yet.

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Hi Shashi, A key innovation gap is how to store and control the release of renewable electric energy generated by such means as solar PVs and wind power. The release problem has already been solved by Kilowatt Labs technology, but might need to be scaled to the size of vehicular use and different communities, plus possibly being reduced in capital cost or operating complexity. The storage problem might be addressed by my Supercapp design that uses gaseous carbon generated by HiiROC’s methane splitting technology to form turbostratic graphene and PET (recycled) made into films that in turn would be made into energy-dense supercapacitors. In turn, these could be used to power electric vehicles, homes or small industries. The stored electricity might also be used to pump and purify bore or waste water or to reclaim pure water from the air by dehumidification.
The winning team would need to produce the layered films from which a Supercapp could be constructed and then tested for energy density, performance, robustness, and cost-estimation at industrial scale.
Successful prototype development would provide: off-grid clean power storage at scales ranging from the domestic, to community, to large industrial and utility scale; a replacement for large, metal-intensive chemical batteries; and a flexible and sustainable replacement for much fossil fuel usage, including that used in most forms of transport. To avoid the need for a community power transmission grid, Supercapp modules of various sizes might be made transportable to individual dwellings or campsites. Such modules might also be recharged on-site from unrolled rolls of flexible PV material. Refugee camps might find good use for such equipment.

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Thanks @b0bbybaldi, @alanaq, @carlbozzuto, @akb, @ErnieRogers, @Sev for sharing these Insights and feedback. Great points.

@Eti - What are your thoughts on the comments so far.

The best overall off-grid clean power for users of almost all sizes and resources is probably a combination of DC electricity from renewable sources, such as solar PV and wind, and stored electrical energy using supercapps and/or chemical batteries. Hence, there is little need to get involved with the intricacies of the wide variety of criteria and users indicated in the current draft “winning-team-will-statement”.
Hydrogen is not a good transport or storage fuel for most purposes. Hydrogen distribution and storage infrastructure: is largely non-existent; would be hugely expensive; would take a long time to roll out nationally; would tend not to serve isolated or poor communities; and is unnecessary because existing and extended natural gas and HVDC/AC infrastructure, plus commercial methane splitting technology and electrical storage, could perform the desired functions better, cheaper and faster.

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Guess what?

You don’t need to have any traditional energy storage systems when you can have clean locally 24/7 continuous generation systems on demand in ridiculously confined spaces.

What I mean is that it is possible to generate electrical energy from magnetic systems, and this is where the comment regarding the objective of the competition fits:

"The magnetite found in neodymium magnets is the most efficient energy storage system ever created."

Neodymium magnets have a very high coercive force, and there will be no demagnetization and magnetic changes under the natural environment and general magnetic field conditions. Assuming under an appropriate environment, even after a long period of use, the magnetic performance of the magnet will not be greatly reduced. Therefore, in practical applications, we often ignore the influence of time on the magnetic performance of neodymium magnets.

The golden ticket is in “How to harvest electrons” …

This can make it possible to generate the necessary energy in two ways:

  1. Autonomous Generation Distributed towards the immediate systems that consume it “locally”
  2. Autonomous Generation Embedded within the systems that consume it. Let’s not go further, it can be applied from a refrigerator to an electric vehicle, without the need for expensive batteries.

As we have commented previously, the Autonomous Systems of Generation of Energy by Magnetic Transduction, can be applied to generate true green hydrogen, thermal energy, electrical energy, plasma, etc.

In the economic balance, the levelized cost of energy indicates a return on investment time of 2.5 to 3 years, if we consider that a magnet can have a life time of up to 150 years, the rest of the time the energy is financially free.

We hope that these comments can offer an idea of the scope of following this development path, we continue to do our part.

Thank you very much, as always it is a pleasure to greet you and to be able to contribute to the project.

Best regards to the XPRIZE team.

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Thanks @Magneto for sharing these insights. Very helpful.