The X PRIZE Foundation announced the launch of its sixth major incentive competition — the $1.4 Million Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE. The announcement was made by X PRIZE Chairman Peter H. Diamandis and Wendy Schmidt, who personally funded the $1.4 million prize purse. Schmidt is President of The Schmidt Family Foundation, which strives to advance the development of clean energy and support the wiser use of natural resources.
"The devastating impact of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill will last for years and it is inevitable that future spills will occur — both from wells and from transport tankers," stated Diamandis. "To be prepared to safeguard oceans and shores, the X PRIZE Foundation is announcing the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE to find the most effective and environmentally-safe solutions for capturing oil from all spills at the spill site, thus limiting their impacts and protecting our oceans, shores, marshes, and, importantly, the health and well-being of the people and wildlife which live and thrive in these communities."
The goal of the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE is to inspire entrepreneurs, engineers, and scientists worldwide to develop innovative, rapidly deployable, and highly efficient methods of capturing crude oil from the ocean surface. In making the announcement, the X PRIZE Foundation hopes to attract philanthropic and venture capital to support development of this important capability and provide a global platform where new technologies can compete head-to-head, and the best approaches demonstrated, to prepare for future catastrophes.
"With more than tens of thousands of ocean oil platforms across the globe, and million of barrels of oil being transported every day by tankers, it's not a question of 'if' there will be another oil spill, but 'when,'" stated Schmidt. "We need to come up with better solutions to capture oil on the surface, to minimize the harm these spills are causing to marine life, coastal wetlands, and beaches, and to our livelihoods — a harm that can last for generations."
Competition RulesPhase I. From August 2010 to April 2011, teams from around the world are invited to register for this competition, and to submit their approach to clean up oil slicks created by spills or leaks from ships or tankers (e.g., Exxon Valdez), land drainage, waste disposal, or oil platform spill (e.g., Deepwater Horizon). An expert panel of judges from industry and academia will evaluate all of the proposals along the following criteria:
Technical approach and commercialization plan
No negative environmental impact
Scalability of and ability to deploy technology; cost and human labor of implementation
Improvement of technology over today’s baseline booms and skimmers
Phase II. The judges will select up to 10 of the top teams to demonstrate their ability to efficiently and rapidly clean up oil on the ocean surface in a head-to-head competition. These proofs of capability, which will determine the winner, will take place at the National Oil Spill Response Research & Renewable Energy Test Facility (OHSMETT) in New Jersey. The top team that demonstrates the ability to recover oil on the sea-water surface at the highest oil recovery rate (ORR) and recovery efficiency (RE) will win the $1 million Grand Purse. Second place will win $300,000 and third place will win $100,000.
NASA announces 3 new Centennial Challenges
NASA has announced three new prize competitions, with an overall prize purse of $5 million. NASA's Centennial Challenges are prize competitions for technological achievements by independent teams who work without government funding.
"NASA sponsors prize competitions because the agency believes student teams, private companies of all sizes and citizen-inventors can provide creative solutions to problems of interest to NASA and the nation," said Bobby Braun, the agency's chief technologist. "Prize competitions are a proven way to foster technological competitiveness, new industries and innovation across America."
The Nano-Satellite Launch Challenge is to place a small satellite into Earth orbit, twice in one week, with a prize of $2 million. The goals of this challenge are to stimulate innovations in low-cost launch technology and encourage creation of commercial nano-satellite delivery services.
The Night Rover Challenge will demonstrate a solar-powered exploration vehicle that can operate in darkness using its own stored energy. The prize purse is $1.5 million. The objective is to stimulate innovations in energy storage technologies of value in extreme space environments, such as the surface of the moon, or for electric vehicles and renewable energy systems on Earth.
The Sample Return Robot Challenge is to demonstrate a robot that can locate and retrieve geologic samples from wide and varied terrain without human control. This challenge has a prize purse of $1.5 million. The objectives are to encourage innovations in automatic navigation and robotic manipulator technologies.
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Centennial Challenges are extended to individuals, groups and companies working outside the traditional aerospace industry. Unlike most contracts or grants, awards only are made after solutions are successfully demonstrated.
NASA is soliciting proposals from non-profit organizations to manage each of the three new competitions. Centennial Challenge events typically include public audiences and are televised or broadcast over the Internet via streaming video. The competitions provide high-visibility opportunities for public outreach and education.
After the partner organizations are signed, NASA and those organizations expect to announce challenge rules and details on how teams may enter later this year. Proposals from organizations interested in partnering with NASA are due by Sept. 13. Selection of partner organizations is expected by Oct. 8.
Since 2005, NASA has conducted 19 competition events in six challenge areas and awarded $4.5 million to 13 different teams. There are three current Centennial Challenges:
The Strong Tether Challenge: Teams must demonstrate a material that is at least 50% stronger than the strongest one commercially available. The challenge is scheduled for Aug. 13 in Seattle.
The Power Beaming Challenge: Teams must transmit power using laser beams to a device, so it can climb a vertical cable more than half a mile high. The challenge is planned for the fall of 2010.
The Green Flight Challenge: Teams will fly aircraft they designed to travel 200 miles in less than two hours using the energy equivalent of less than one gallon of gasoline per occupant. The challenge will be held in July 2011. It is expected to attract electric, hybrid and bio-fueled aircraft.
The AIChE Foundation raises funds to support projects and activities that further the Institute's mission and enable the profession of chemical engineering to have a greater impact on the world. Donations small and large make a difference.
Since carbon sequestration has been a bust, Sean Simpson, the world's plan B for greenhouse gas emissions and New Zealand's biggest entrepreneurial success story, confidently strides on stage to tell a local audience how he scaled up while surviving on scraps of Kiwi venture capital - a clean-tech Top Ramen diet.
The art of the pitch
He may look like an aging, dissipated rocker with long, disheveled hair and a wrinkled, untucked shirt, but a few months after the speech, Simpson, the chief scientist and founder of LanzaTech, raised an additional $60 million, bringing the haul from a who's who of global investors, including Japan's Mitusi and Germany's Siemens, to $150 million. Give or take an extra $20 or $30 million, this will enable him to fully expand the range of microbes in LanzaTech's archive.
During his walk-and-talk, Simpson, who likes to think big (solving both halves of the global energy problem, a perfect example), wants his audience to know how important it is to “walk into a room with a concept that most people consider crazy, get them excited about it, and then ask for money.” As he roams the stage riffing on his well-honed pitch, it's easy to see that he's become a great storyteller - and funny - cracking himself up while dishing out anecdotes. Sure, it's exciting to know that LanzaTech has the first technology to turn steel mill and refinery waste gases into biofuel, but it takes Simpson to bring the industrial process to life.
His restless pacing, then suddenly turning to the audience to make a point, before gliding off again, makes sense for a man who's always been on the move. He's only nominally British. After he was born in Zambia, his parents dragged him across Africa until he finally stopped long enough in England to study bioengineering and biochemistry.
After college he knocked around the world as a journeyman researcher until he washed up in New Zealand, working as the leader on a biofuel project to turn hardwood into ethanol.
While slogging away in the lab, he started seriously thinking about the downsides of biomass. Feedstock and logistics costs (hauling all of that potential energy in from the field) were unavoidable. He started to imagine harvesting cheap CO-rich gases and converting them into fuels and chemicals. He spent his free time trolling university archives, looking for some way to turn steel mill and refinery off-gases, typically considered waste, into a biofuel.
Acetogen on ice
Finally, in an obscure research journal, he found a possible solution, a bacteria (an acetogen) living in a rabbit's gut that might eat enough carbon monoxide to spit out gallons of ethanol. His life as an entrepreneur had just begun - whether he was ready or not.
He immediately shelled out $1,000 for a microbe in a deep freeze half way around the world. After it arrived by air freight, he revived it and prodded it to see if it had an appetite for carbon monoxide. Barely. But he saw enough potential to put it through an accelerated natural selection - culling out the laggards - until the microbe started to develop a craving for gas. And just in time - he promptly lost his day job when the biofuel project went belly-up.
Tweaking and improving the microbe right up until his unemployment ran out, he ended up with a small sample, data and a slide presentation. So he started looking for money to keep the project alive. After Simpson mastered his pitch, he presented his "crazy idea" to three New Zealand venture capitalists who gave him enough money to hire a small staff.
They also helped Simpson meet Vinod Khosla, another global expatriate, believer in ethanol, and the biggest green-tech venture capitalist in the world. Khosla, who thinks so big that he ascribes to a black swan investment strategy of massively expensive long-shots, liked Simpson's enthusiastic pitch so much - especially the crazy idea - that he immediately said he'd invest, but then warned Simpson that if he didn't stop talking, he'd throw him out.
A bit terrifying
Next Khlosa recruited CEO Jennifer Holmgren, an alternative fuels veteran from UOP, who promptly dragged Simpson to China, where they pitched Bao Steel into trying the organism at one of its steel mills. After what Simpson fondly recalls as "drinking a lot, eating strange foods," and explaining the microbe's economic potential, the Bao executives signed on.
When Bao finally tested the concept at one of its steel mills, it was the first time Simpson could see his vision transformed into a facility producing 100,000 gallons of ethanol a year. He confessed, "To stand in front of that plant in China was phenomenal and a bit terrifying."
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