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Gov. Gordon Offers Up Wyoming To Host Elon Musk-Funded XPRIZE

Screenshot of the online XPRIZE Carbon Removal page
XPRIZE Foundation

As the $20 million NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE comes to a close in Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon has offered up the state to once again host an XPRIZE competition, public records acquired by Wyoming Public Media show.

The offer followed a cryptic Jan. 21 tweet from Elon Musk, CEO and founder of Tesla, which read: "Am donating $100M towards a prize for best carbon capture technology."

The tweet sparked a conversation in the Governor's office of how to best be a part of the effort. Discussion resulted in a letter sent Jan. 27 to the non-profit XPRIZE Foundation to pass along to Musk. It laid out how Wyoming would be well-positioned to host the new XPRIZE competition. Gordon began the letter by outlining the state's interest in carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS).

"There are many who would prefer to slam the door on our fossil energy resources. However, we both know that the United States could stop using fossil energy tomorrow and the impact on CO2 [carbon dioxide] emissions would be negligible as Asia electrifies and their carbon emissions grow exponentially," the governor wrote to the technocrat billionaire.

The XPRIZE Foundation officially announced the $100 million XPRIZE Carbon Removal, sponsored by Elon Musk and the Musk Foundation, on Feb. 8, 2021. To win, teams must demonstrate their ability to not only remove carbon dioxide, but economically scale up to reduce CO2 at the gigaton, or billion ton, level.

Screenshot of Elon Musk tweet that inspired Gov. Mark Gordon's letter
Credit Twitter
Screenshot of Elon Musk tweet that inspired Gov. Mark Gordon's letter

"We want to make a truly meaningful impact. Carbon negativity, not neutrality," read a quote by Musk, "This is not a theoretical competition; we want teams that will build real systems that can make a measurable impact and scale to a gigaton level."

Gordon noted in his letter that he hopes Wyoming can lead the globe in developing carbon capture technologies for other countries to use. Wyoming has spent tens of millions of dollars to further the tech while answering regulatory questions around carbon dioxide storage and transportation, he said.

"With that in mind, I would like to offer the use of the Wyoming ITC to conduct your prize competition. As the largest post-combustion carbon research facility in the Western Hemisphere, we have ready infrastructure that cannot be offered elsewhere," he said.

Nearly a decade ago, former Gov. Matt Mead and the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority connected with the XPRIZE Foundation as it was looking for a host site for a new competition based on scaling up carbon capture utilization technology. State leaders pitched the prize finalists as the first tenants for the yet-to-be built carbon capture research site, the Integrated Test Center. State lawmakers allocated$15 million in 2014 to construct the site alongside the coal-fired Dry Fork Station. TDA Research ended up as the first tenant after delays held back initial XPRIZE demonstrations.

The $100 million XPRIZE Carbon Removal will officially launch on Earth Day, April 22 and will take place over four years. It's not yet clear where the competition will be held. Gordon's office has yet to hear back from Musk and not made any public statement related to the letter

Meanwhile, the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE will announce the winner of the $20 million competition on Monday, April 19. Wyoming Public Media is telling that story in-depth through the new series Carbon Valley.

Before Wyoming, Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. He's reported breaking news segments and features for several national NPR news programs. Cooper is the host of the limited podcast series Carbon Valley. Cooper studied Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.

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