Alberta to become the home of global XPRIZE in carbon capture aimed at fixing one of humanity’s most important challenges

Following a $100 million incentive prize funded by the Elon Musk Foundation to whoever can best solve carbon capture problems, industry players in Alberta are stepping up to the challenge. 

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Alberta will become the home to a Carbon Removal Accelerator institution, in a partnership between XPRIZE, Avatar Innovations, and the University of Calgary (UCalgary) with a goal to build a better energy future.

The idea is that by commercializing “carbon negative” technologies, the circular economy concept can be used to create an energy transformation using the three R’s – reduce reuse and return carbon emissions.

The Carbon Removal Accelerator will provide XPRIZE competitors with unique access to UCalgary’s expertise, technologies, and resources in this research area as well as access to investors and major potential customers in Alberta’s energy industry.

Suncor, Enbridge, Canadian Natural Resources Limited, Shell Canada and Cenovus Energy have all agreed to participate in the Accelerator and will provide subject matter experts from their companies to assist the XPRIZE competitors.

In May 2021, Elon Musk’s foundation teamed up with XPRIZE to launch a 4-year Carbon Removal competition with $100M of incentives, including a $50M prize to the competition winner. 

The goal of the foundation is to generate innovation that will allow carbon dioxide to be pulled either directly from the atmosphere or the oceans, or from fossil fuel emissions at the time of combustion.

Doing so would solve one of humanity’s largest environmental challenges and could allow the world to extend the consumption of energy planet-wide while simultaneously reducing CO2 emissions. 

“…The true goal is to collectively inspire and create real, meaningful impact. Carbon negativity, not neutrality. This partnership will help us find and nurture some of the greatest minds in the climate change fight,” said Marcius Extavour, VP Climate & Energy of XPRIZE. The cash prize is the largest in XPRIZE’s history.

Avatar Innovations, a private sector energy industry accelerator and training program designed by UCalgary in 2017 will take the lead on coordinating the relationship between prize competitors, the University, and the participating energy companies.

The goal is to make Alberta, and Calgary in particular, a global hub for carbon removal research and innovation. 

“The carbon removal industry is projected to be a multi-trillion-dollar industry by 2050. By partnering with the world’s most prestigious technology competition – XPRIZE – leading energy firms and academia, Avatar is positioning Canada as a global superpower in emerging carbon and energy transition technologies,” said Kevin Krausert, CEO of Avatar Innovations.

Avatar’s leadership team was previously involved in helping run a smaller Canadian competition called the “NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE” which was completed in April 2021.

That Calgary-based competition was able to identify four promising carbon reduction and reuse technologies that are now attempting to be commercialized. That effort started Calgary’s world-leading carbon technology ecosystem, and Avatar hopes the AVATAR x XPRIZE Carbon Removal Accelerator will take the research and innovation to another global level.

“A tailor-made accelerator providing global, early-stage carbon removal companies with the industry access and industrial scale required for this challenge,” said AVATAR.  The Accelerator will include access to UCalgary’s $1B worth of carbon testing facilities and dedicated office and technical space in downtown Calgary.

The project opens up new economic opportunities for Calgary. As Deborah Yedlin, CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, put it:

“This initiative – in collaboration with XPrize, the University of Calgary industry and the Elon Musk Foundation – positions Calgary as the global centre for the development of carbon removal technologies and processes, which will transform the production and use of energy around the world.”

As Alberta is attracting private investment to tap into what could be a multi-trillion-dollar industry and a key to environmental success, other provinces such as Quebec have decided to avoid natural resources and energy innovation efforts. 

Recently, the government of Quebec quashed a liquified natural gas project, citing its efforts to reduce carbon emissions and omitting to acknowledge that the project would have contributed to reduced global carbon emissions by replacing coal and other more polluting energy in importing countries. 

Industry experts are increasingly calling for innovation efforts to tackle carbon emissions instead of altogether abandoning fossil fuels. 

In numerous instances, the transition to a “renewable” energy grid has come with blackouts, energy rationing, and instability. 

With better reliability and affordability, fossil fuel could remain a viable source of energy as innovation provides ways to capture carbon emissions and neutralize its footprint. 

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