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Insight & Analysis - News - January 22, 2021

Why Elon Musk is Donating $100M to Find the Best Carbon Capture Technology

Elon Musk, the world’s richest person tweeted that he will be donating $100 million towards a prize for the best carbon capture technology in an upcoming competition.

Musk, who recently overtook Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to become the world’s richest person didn’t provide further details besides an accompanying tweet that read “details will come next week.”

However, a source told TechCrunch that this will be related to the Xprize Foundation, a non-profit organisation running competitions to encourage technical growth and innovation.

What is Carbon Capture?

Carbon capture is the containing of waste carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted at refineries or factories in order to eliminate possible toxic by-products from the atmosphere and combat climate change. Over the past two decades, several companies have emerged with different methods of carbon capture.

A key challenge for the technology is the high upfront cost of carbon capture and storage or sequestration (CCS). However, there are companies that have made progress in carbon capture and utilization, a cousin of CCS, in which the emissions obtained are then processed for other uses.

One of such companies is LanzaTech, which has developed a technology that absorbs the emissions of waste gas and uses bacteria to transform it into usable ethanol fuel.

Benefits of Carbon Capture

  • Generate additional power.  Carbon capture could transfer heat more readily and take less energy to compress steam which can boost turbines used for generating electricity.  It can also be used to produce renewable energy from the surface of the earth (geothermal energy) which can be used for cooking, space heating, electrical power generation, and others.
  • Create more fuel: Technically, CO2 can be converted into fuel. There are several ways to do this, but they are challenging in terms of cost and operation.
  • Enrich concrete: Captured CO2 can also be used to reinforce concrete, contributing to enhanced durability of infrastructure.
  • Bolster manufacturing operations: CO2 can be used to create chemicals and plastics, such as polyurethanes, which are used to manufacture soft foams like the one in mattresses.
  • Create new jobs: More qualified technicians would be required if further CCS operations were introduced.

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