Million-dollar contest launched for oil clean-up ideas

Posted by Emma Woollacott

A $1 million prize is on offer to anyone that can do a better job of cleaning up oil spills than BP.

Best-known for its efforts to launch the private spaceflight industry  and the ultra-fuel efficient vehicle market, the X Prize Foundation has launched the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Challenge.

The prize is funded by Wendy Schmidt, wife of Google chairman Eric.The aim is to inspire entrepreneurs, engineers, and scientists worldwide to develop new and efficient methods of capturing crude oil from the ocean surface.

"With more then ten thousands of ocean oil platforms across the globe, and million of barrels of oil being transported every day by tankers, it's not a question of 'if' there will be another oil spill, but 'when'," says Wendy Schmidt.

"We need to come up with better solutions to capture oil on the surface, to minimize the harm these spills are causing to marine life, coastal wetlands, and beaches, and to our livelihoods - a harm that can last for generations. This is why I am personally funding this X Challenge: to inspire innovators around the world - and all those who want to help address what has happened in the Gulf - to focus on solutions to an ongoing, systemic problem."

The competition has two phases.

From now until next April, teams from around the world can register and submit their approach. The organizers are looking for techniques to clean up oil slicks created by spills or leaks from ships or tankers, land drainage, waste disposal, or oil platform spills.

An expert panel of judges from industry and academia will evaluate all of the proposals on the basis of their technical approach and commercialization plan, environmental impact, scalability and cost, and will look for improvements over today’s baseline booms and skimmers.

In phase  two, the judges will pick up to 10 of the top teams to compete in a head-to-head competition. The team that can recover oil on the sea-water surface most quickly and efficiently will win the $1 million Grand Purse. Second place will win $300,000 and third place $100,000.