Our Journey to the Carbon XPRIZE Finals

Back in 2015, Team CarbonCure became one of 38 shortlisted contenders for the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE — a global competition that challenges participants to convert carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions into commercially viable products, with the ultimate goal of tackling climate change. 

After being selected as a semi-finalist, Team CarbonCure achieved a historic milestone in January 2018: the successful demonstration of a fully integrated CO2 capture and utilization solution for concrete, where the CO2 from a cement plant was used for the production of ready mix concrete.

That following April, Team CarbonCure was named one of the ten finalists. Finalists have an opportunity to demonstrate their technologies and compete for the multi-million dollar prize which will be awarded in 2021.

What is XPRIZE?

The XPRIZE Foundation is a non-profit organization that has designed, operated, and funded 17 competitions, incentivizing innovation in a range of areas that benefit humanity including Space, Oceans, Learning, Health, Energy, Environment, Transportation, Safety, and Robotics. 

The concept of incentivizing innovation is not new. In 1714, the British government launched what is now known as the Longitude Prize to solve the greatest scientific challenge of the century: how to pinpoint a ship’s location at sea by knowing its longitude. The challenge was solved by watchmaker John Harrison who designed the chronometer, the first seafaring clock that allowed people to pinpoint their exact position at sea. 

Similarly, the Orteig Prize offered a $25,000 award for the first aviator to fly non-stop from New York City to Paris or vice versa. The contest compelled Charles Lindbergh to fly across the Atlantic and launched a new era of aviation technology and transatlantic air travel.

Today XPRIZE spearheads contests to encourage the creation of industry-changing technology to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. The very first XPRIZE, for example, was won by Mojave Aerospace Ventures for their SpaceShipOne. The team's winning technology was eventually licensed by Richard Branson to create Virgin Galactic and a $2 billion private space industry was born. 

Virgin Galactic's Carrier Aircraft VMS Eve and VSS Unity Take to the Skies. Source: Virgin Galactic

CarbonCure’s XPRIZE Journey

Team CarbonCure entered the Carbon XPRIZE to join the movement of companies utilizing waste CO₂ and removing it from the atmosphere. 

CarbonCure is unique, however. Unlike other categories of CO₂ utilization that result in the creation of fuel, chemicals, and plastics, the CO₂ that is consumed with CarbonCure’s innovation is permanently removed from the carbon cycle, and will never be released back into the atmosphere.

“The Carbon XPRIZE competition aligned with CarbonCure’s overall mission to reduce 500 megatonnes of CO₂ from the concrete industry annually,” said CarbonCure President Jennifer Wagner, the leader of Team CarbonCure. 

The first round involved a written submission to determine if candidates’ proposed solutions met the contest criteria. CarbonCure was one of the 38 shortlisted innovations to move on to the next round of the contest.

After two years of innovation development, CarbonCure was among the 10 finalists that were awarded $500,000 USD alongside a chance to compete in the final round of the contest. 

The Carbon XPRIZE timeline, which is scheduled to end in 2021. Source: XPRIZE

The final demonstrations will take place this year at one of two power plants — a natural gas power plant in Calgary, Alberta and a coal power plant in Gillette, Wyoming. CarbonCure will participate in the Alberta cohort.

During the demonstration, carbon capture technologies will take emissions from the power plant stacks and pipe them into several test bays for the finalists to use in their demonstrations. 

The winning teams in Alberta and Wyoming will convert the most CO₂ into products with the highest value — and will each win a $7.5 million USD prize!

Carbon XPRIZE Final Judging Criteria:

  1. How much CO₂ is converted/removed
  2. The net value of the products created
CarbonCure XPrize
The setup of the CarbonCure for Reclaimed Water demo technology at the Alberta Carbon Conversion Technology Centre in Calgary, Alberta.

CarbonCure’s XPRIZE Innovation

For the competition, Team CarbonCure is demonstrating a variation of the company's latest technology: CarbonCure for Reclaimed Water. The demonstration for the purposes of this competition will be very different from the commercial application of the solution, which is optimized for use at concrete plants and won’t require any onsite carbon capture.

“For CarbonCure for Reclaimed Water, CO₂ is added to waste water gathered at a concrete plant," explained Travis Janke, Project Manager at CarbonCure. "The CO₂ is then bound within the material, and can be incorporated back into new concrete mixes to reduce the amount of required freshwater and carbon-intensive cement as virgin products.”

In a commercial scenario, the technology integrates with a concrete producer’s reclaimer where it injects CO₂ to unlock full value from the waste cement and water. The product is already being tested in live plants. However, the team will take further learnings from the demonstration and apply them to the commercial deployment before scaling globally alongside the established CarbonCure for Ready Mix and Precast solutions.

Furthering CarbonCure’s Mission

Since 2015, CarbonCure’s XPRIZE journey has run in parallel to its business growth.

“Participating in the competition has been a wonderful experience for our team. Regardless of the outcome, we’ve developed a unique technology that is both commercially viable and an additional method for reducing embodied carbon in the built environment,” said Wagner.

“Prize-based competitions are an important accelerator to help solve the world’s greatest challenges, and our team has been proud to compete for the prestigious Carbon XPRIZE."

CarbonCure’s vision, to ensure that concrete decarbonization and profitability are not mutually exclusive, influenced its strategy to create retrofit solutions for the concrete industry that have very low barriers to adoption.

Competing for the XPRIZE helped accelerate these efforts, pushing CarbonCure closer towards achieving its mission of reducing 500 megatonnes of CO₂ annually.

To learn more about Team CarbonCure, visit our XPRIZE page.

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