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Elon Musk just bought $100 million in publicity for the carbon capture industry

There is no way to stabilize the world’s temperature without an aggressive plan to pull carbon out of the atmosphere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates than more than 3 to 7 gigatons (GT) of CO2 will need to be removed per year by 2050—up to 15 GT by the end of the century—to limit warming to 1.5° C. That’s akin to “running the fossil fuel industry in reverse,” says Rob Jackson, an earth system science professor at Stanford University who leads the Global Carbon Project.

While plenty of technology exists to extract and sequester CO2, ranging from biofuels to direct air capture, none have been scaled up commercially.

On Jan. 21, Elon Musk fired up the climate community by offering a $100 million prize (about .05% of his estimated net worth) to any team that comes up with the best way to capture carbon. It’s a small but meaningful addition to the $4 billion committed to such projects in 2020. Details are reportedly coming this week.

Musk, by offering the prize, joins a long line of governments, industrialists, and charities seeking to inspire new technologies over the past 500 years. Recently, the MacArthur Foundation put up $100 million for proposals promising “real and measurable progress in solving a critical problem of our time.” The Breakthrough Initiative extended two $100 million prizes searching for signs of alien life or demonstrating a fleet of spacecraft that can reach the Alpha Centauri system, our closest celestial neighbor at about four light-years away […]

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