Finalists Vye for $20 Million Carbon XPRIZE

Four Canadian companies have been recognized for their innovative approaches to reimagining carbon dioxide (CO2).

Montreal’s Carbicrete, Dartmouth’s CarbonCure, Calgary’s Carbon Upcycling Technologies, and Toronto’s CERT have been named finalists of the Carbon XPRIZE, with each company taking home $500,000 USD apiece for making it to the overall top 10. The other six finalists included companies from the U.K., the U.S., India and China. Canada was by far the most well-represented country out of the finalists.

The 10 companies will now be split into two five-team tracks, with each competing for a $7.5 million grand prize for each track. Overall, the prize pool for the Carbon XPRIZE totals $20 million USD and began way back in 2015.

The goal of the challenge was for each of the potential finalists to prove that they can use carbon exuded from power plants to turn a profit through a number of different ways. The contest was sponsored by NRG Energy and the Canadian Oil Sands Innovation Alliance.

“These teams are showing us amazing examples of carbon conversion and literally reimagining carbon. The diversity of technologies on display is an inspiring vision of a new carbon economy,” said Marcius Extavour, XPRIZE senior director of Energy and Resources and prize lead. “We are trying to reduce CO2 emissions by converting them into useful materials, and do so in an economically sustainable way.”

The challenge now comes down to which of these companies can put their technologies to use in a real-life setting. XPRIZE has set up two separate tracks: the Wyoming track will see five teams, including CarbonCure, demonstrate conversion of CO2 emissions at the Dry Fork Station coal power plant in Gillette, Wyoming. The Alberta track will see the other five teams, including Carbicrete, CERT and Carbon Upcycling, attempt to demonstrate conversion of CO2 emissions at the Shepard Energy Centre natural gas power plant in Calgary, Canada.

CarbonCure retrofits existing concrete plants that allow producers to recycle CO2 during production, creating environmentally-friendly concrete. CERT turns CO2 into fuels and chemical feedstocks, using only water and electricity. Carbicrete helps manufacturers make cement-free, carbon-negative concrete. Carbon Upcycling manufactures CO2-enriched nanomaterials, so companies that produce CO2 waste can sell the byproduct to Carbon Upcycling for reuse.

If it seems like there are a lot of concrete-focused carbon companies, it’s because cement actually accounts for five per cent of the world’s CO2 emissions. There is a lot of innovation possible within the industry.

In order to make it to the finals, the 10 companies had to demonstrate their technologies at a pilot location they chose themselves. This took place over a 10 month period, after which the results were audited on how much CO2 the teams converted into products; the economic value, market size, and uptake potential of those products, the overall CO2 footprint of the process, and overall energy efficiency.

For example, a team of XPRIZE judges spent three days with CERT in December 2017, evaluating their technology and data. CERT was able to conduct their XPRIZE round two research through an $833,333 TargetGHG Stream 3 grant, administered by Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE).

“Ontario congratulates the CERT team as they advance to the finals of the international Carbon XPRIZE,” said Reza Moridi, Minister of Research, Innovation and Science. “This impressive achievement is a testament to Ontario’s cleantech talent and research excellence. This province is proud to have supported CERT’s efforts as we work together to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and create jobs in the cleantech sector.”

The final round will see the remaining 10 companies demonstrating their technology on a scale that is at least 10 times greater than what the previous semifinal requirements called for. The companies will have to use one tonne of CO2 daily and use that to extrude emissions that will become profitable. Though this is a very small percentage of what a typical power plant produces in a day, the competition is more about testing what is possible for the future.

“We’re excited to support these teams as they scale up and start demonstrating under real-world conditions at the industrial test centers. This is the final, most ambitious stage of this prize competition,” said Extavour.

The finals will start in June 2019 and run for eight months, and the final winners will be revealed in March 2020. Some of the companies, including CarbonCure, will relocate to their assigned track for the duration of the finals.

These finalists prove that the cleantech industry in Canada is among the strongest in the world. CarbonCure was previously included on the Cleantech 100 in 2018, and as Canada moves towards phasing out coal, companies like these finalists will move in to replace traditional energy innovators.