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XPRIZE Competition Heats Up As Teams Prepare To Set Up Shop

Cooper McKim

A $7.5 million competition to develop products out of carbon dioxide is less than a year away from its final stage. The NRG Cosia Carbon XPRIZE competition will take place at the Integrated Test Center outside of Gillette. Five teams are nearing the point where they can set up operations. Wyoming Public Radio's Cooper McKim speaks with Marcius Extavour about how teams are progressing and what's still to come.

Marcius Extavour: It's absolutely not a lot of time and people are definitely racing. The part of the design of the XPRIZE is to ask for a very aggressive schedule and we're just seeing that you know the rubber hits the road now where people are really racing and pushing hard not just to get something done but something. Remember they have to be able to operate safely be able to get permits be able to pass all of their inspections. So the race is really on and I think we're seeing a lot of there. There's just a lot of time pressure on all the competitors

Cooper McKim: From what you've heard from groups does it seem like most everyone is on track or is there still a little bit of space to be at that point it depends?


Extavour: It depends. Every competitors in a slightly different place, but I think overall it's fair to say no one's really comfortable right now. Everybody is a little bit nervous about their timeline. You know, they're counting the days and weeks to figure out how they can execute on time and we're you know we're monitoring that carefully. We there should be some of that tension in the competition which we think will drive people forward.


CM: Could you remind me of all the teams competing in the XPRIZE that will be up at the Integrated Test Center (ITC)?


Extavour: Yeah sure, so we have five projects that are on track to be tested at the ITC. So very quickly we have a team called brief they're based in Bangalore India and they have a technology to turn carbon dioxide into methanol which is an industrial chemical. But you can also use it as a replacement for fuel. There's a team called C4X from studio China. They make foam and plastics and other polymers out of CO2. We have a team called carbon capture machine. They're based in Scotland. They make a mineral powder. It's called precipitated calcium carbonate. So calcium carbonate is chalk, it's a white powder. That can be used in everything from paint to paper to wallboard to flame retardant building materials and other building material applications. There's a team called Carbon Upcycling at UCLA. They make concrete. They have a way of injecting CO2 into concrete so they're in the building materials category. And the fifth team headed to the ITC is called dimensional energy. They're based in Ithaca New York. And they make replacement fuels and chemicals starting with something called syngas which is an industrial chemical, fuel actually, that can be either be used directly as a fuel or used as a basic input material to make a whole host of other materials.


CM: Where should groups be ideally at this moment with a little less than a year to go?


Extavour: There isn't really an ideal state. I mean well some of the milestones that people are working on now are making sure that their permit applications are being reviewed and filed.


Teams do not need to be operating now. They don't need to be commissioning now. They don't even need to be building now, but we're really emphasizing that everyone needs to focus on their permits and making sure that those are in order. That sounds kind of mundane but it's actually a necessary step to getting anything done. The other thing I'd say though is in parallel with all those steps there is the team's actual engineering design and fundraising and actual building that's going on at their own site.


CM: So, groups will eventually all have something set up at the Integrated Test Center site. When do you think the last group or all of them will have hit that milestone?


Extavour: You know it's really hard to say but I think the most realistic we think for us is into late fall and winter. So no doubt some teams will be early out of the gate and want to take a more relaxed schedule some will be there at the last minute and some may even be late. That's a real part of this. And you know, every team's got to figure that out. But as we approach the submission deadline I think we expect the activity to intensify and more and more activity to be happening on the site.


CM: At this point in the competition what are you excited about?


Extavour: Well we're excited for people to do it and we're excited to see what it looks like. We've been talking about what these technologies could be. We've seen them at small scale and we've go to know the competitors pretty well and now we're really looking forward to just getting this piece of technology on the ground. It'll be really exciting to see them in action. I mean we can't stress enough this is not happening anywhere else. There are no clusters in the world of CO2 conversion technologies that look like this. And when these competitors are operating at the ITC, this will really be a world leading spot for this type of solution. So, I mean, because we have we've been on this journey with the competitors, we're very excited for them to get to this milestone moment of having a running piece of equipment. And I also, you know, I can't forget it's also a competition and they are all really going for it and believe they can win. And we're excited to see them operate sort of in the presence of their peers and see how they can push themselves in the moment to try to get the best possible results and data that they can given in their systems. So we're really looking forward to things like that in the last.


CM: Well, thanks for taking the time.


Extavour: My pleasure. Happy to do it.

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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