Photo courtesy of XPRIZE Foundation.

Photo courtesy of XPRIZE Foundation.

XPRIZE to Give Lots of Money to Really Smart People 

Dr. Paul Bunje heads up the Energy & Environment prizes at the XPRIZE Foundation, which offers a cash purse to contestants who participate in its environmental grand challenges. In September, it launched its latest challenge: Develop a way to keep carbon from entering the atmosphere and find something constructive to do with it.

But how do you decide that idea’s worth $20 million?

Dr. Paul Bunje at the World Climate Summit. (Photo Credit: Nicole Landers)

Dr. Paul Bunje at the World Climate Summit. (Photo Credit: Nicole Landers)

“There’s a bit of an art and a bit of a science to it,” “That’s a good question,” said Dr. Bunje. And that’s, we have a pretty extensive prize development process where we look at all of the different incentives that are out there. And that includes existing market mechanisms, that includes the regulatory world, and that includes a lot of work into the specific technology space, the R&D that’s happening now, what it costs to do it, etc., etc.

“The number, $20 million, ultimately needs to be a big enough signal that it rises above the noise. It also needs to be a big enough signal that it seems serious and credible and worth doing. So it can’t be out of left field and be, here’s a few dollars and a nice steak dinner.”

In the end, however, the 10 finalists of the competition will be more important than who ultimately wins the prize. That “ecosystem of competition” created by the prize will yield 10 approaches to sucking carbon out of dirty power plants. “All of them are coming up with ideas in what is a nascent industry,” said Bunje, and the market created by this work will be a boon to both the green movement and the economy.

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