In September, the X Prize Foundation announced a contest to come up with the next, green-themed X Prize. The challenge was to make a 2 minute YouTube video which focuses on a specific green goal which, if met, would be rewarded with a $10 million X Prize. The maker of the winning video would receive $25,000 of his/her own, granted by Prize Capital – a company dedicated to supporting green startups and causes.
The contest has been narrowed down to the following three finalists:
Jonathan Dreher, of Cambridge MA
Jonathan starts by pointing out that a lot of attention is already being given to the problem of increasing energy production through clean technologies (implying, perhaps, that no X Prize is needed to incentivize on this front). Instead, he says the challenge is to reduce energy consumption by ordinary Americans - something that requires no special technology and no avanced degrees. Anyone can participate.
The X Prize would be given to a community, not an individual. Whichever community could reduce its overall energy consumption the most over a two year period would win a prize that they would all share. Jonathan gives the examples of a school district winning free college tuition for all of its students, or a community of households winning $20,000 each.
He hopes that the prize would show how feasible it really is to reduce energy consumption. If just 10% of American households reduced their consumption by 10%, he says, we would collectively save $1 billion in energy costs and reduce CO2 emissions by 8 million tons.
I definitely identify with Mr. Dreher’s ideals. Part of the problem is our lifestyle – the choices we make. It is important for America to see what can happen when we make the right decisions. But I’m skeptical about the setup. It’s not that hard to limit your shower time or put on an extra sweater when the prize of free college tuition is dangling in front of you. Once the competition is over, there are no more incentives save the inspiring accomplishments of the contestants. Will that be enough for America?
Alan Silva, of Roy, UT
Alan believes that the X Prize should be awarded to anyone who can come up with a working model for an energy independent home. He lays out three rules for what constitutes such a home: 1. It must be completely off the grid 2. People must be able to afford it (although he never really quantifies that criterion) and 3. Any combination of technologies is permitted.
He goes on to describe an example home with concentrated solar panels and small wind turbines on the roof, underground flywheels to store the energy, solar tracking devices, underground heat exchangers, and the like. Alan finishes off by highlighting the financial, geopolitical and environmental benefits of going off the grid.
This entry is interesting because it challenges engineers to zoom out, focus on the big picture. Taking a variety of recent advancements, how can we put it all together? The question is, what is new here? Off the grid homes already exist. Ah, it must be affordable, says Mr. Silva. But what is considered affordable? The example he gives would easily cost tens of thousands of dollars. Essentially, the way to win this X Prize is to find the cheapest combination of existing technologies. Definitely useful knowledge, but – a breakthrough?
Kyle Good, of Irvine, CA
In this video, a couple guys (one of which, I presume, is Kyle) talk about how batteries – crucial parts of all modern technology – need to change. Batteries, they say, have short lifetimes and release toxic chemicals into the environment when discarded.
Instead, they call on engineers to build us an ultracapacitor – a battery which will be built out of environmentally benign materials, will charge quickly and will be affordable. Ultracapacitors could be used in small applications like portable electronics and large ones, like electric vehicles.
Kyle and his team outline some details: 1. You may only use self-contained capacitors 2. You must exceed the energy density of a lead-acid battery 3. The battery must recharge in less than a minute and survive half a million cycles 4. You must use non-toxic, recyclable materials 5. The battery must cost less thatn 2/3 the cost of a lead-acid battery.
They then add that the ultracapacitor should hold enough energy to drive an electric vehicle for 100 miles without recharging.
Kyle and company have sure put together a tall order. Recharging in less than a minute? If, in judging the entries, I were given a guarantee that the winning challenge would be met, I think these guys would be the clear winners. A cheap, durable – essentially perfect – ultracapacitor is a sort of clean tech holy grail… which is why lots of people are trying to make one and have been doing so for a while. A $10 million X Prize would certainly be a boost, but if someone actually knew a good way to make these things, I’m sure he/she would have no trouble raising multiples of that in VC funding.
Via X Prize, Prize Capital
written by Mark, November 21, 2008
written by Nothintosee, November 22, 2008
written by Nick Blix, November 24, 2008
written by Mark Bachelder, December 03, 2008
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