The Virgin Earth Challenge is a prize of $25m for whoever can demonstrate to the judges' satisfaction a commercially viable design which results in the removal of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases so as to contribute materially to the stability of Earth's climate.There are detailed guidelines (excerpt below), which include the entrants agreeing to let Virgin use their work for promoting the company. The competition doesn't close until 8 February 2010. The judges can share out the prize between multiple entries. The winner(s) get 20% of the prize straight away, but for the other 80%, they have to show their design working over 10 years.
From: Virgin Earth Challenge, 2007
The guidelines refer to "engineering or the other physical technologies", so it is not clear if biological or social systems could be used. For example a new form of living plant could be produced which took up more CO2, or a social movement could encourage people to plant trees. It would be unfortunate if only highly technical (and expensive) methods were allowed. It may be much cheaper to breed a plant, rather than genetically engineer one, or to have a web based social movement to encourage people to plant trees, rather than have a complex machine to do it.
No doubt there will plenty of weird ideas. So here is mine:
The Solar Tower Greenhouse
The Australian government has funded some research on a updraft solar tower. The tower works by solar heated air powering a turbine to generate electricity. A production unit would to be 1 km high, surrounded by a solar absorber 5.6 km in diameter.
The solar collector on a Solar Tower is usually described as a "greenhouse", so I propose modifying the design to be an actual greenhouse, with 25 square km of living plants to convert CO2 into O2. The Oxygen would then be injected 1km into the atmosphere by the tower, while still generating power.
The greenhouse could be made of plastic bubbles, similar to the Eden Project. The tower could be a self supporting tethered balloon, rather than a rigid structure. The tower could be inflated like a balloon, rather than constructed like a tower, and could be deflated for maintenance.
Water and nutrients for the plants could be provided from sewage. A fossil fuel burning power plant could be co-located to inject CO2 into the greenhouse, accelerating plant growth and allowing sequestration of the carbon. Carbon capture and storage is usually thought of as something done with a mechanical or chemical process at a coal burning power plant, but using a plant to do it makes the process solar powered.
Plants absorb about 0.01 k of CO2 per day per m2, or 10,000 kg per square km per day. So one solar tower would absorb 250,000 kg a day of CO2.
Virgin doesn't seem to want to save on energy or resources with the competition process. Entrants are required to submit their entries on paper, with an entry form. Online submission would save on paper and transport, but is not permitted, under the rules:
Virgin Earth Challenge Guidelines
1. Purpose and overview
The purpose of the Virgin Earth Challenge is to encourage the development of commercially viable new technology, processes and methods to remove anthropogenic greenhouse gases from the atmosphere to improve the stability of the Earth's climate.
Entrants must submit a commercially viable design (the "Design") to achieve the net removal of significant volumes of anthropogenic, atmospheric greenhouse gases each year for at least 10 years without countervailing harmful effects (the "Removal Target"). The removal achieved by the Design must have long term benefits (measured over say 1,000 years) and must contribute materially to the stability of the Earth's climate.
The prize fund will be awarded to (or shared amongst) any entrants whose Design (in the opinion of the judges) achieves or appears capable of achieving the Removal Target and other criteria set out in paragraph 7 and which in the opinion of the judges makes an outstanding contribution by way of innovation in the fields of engineering or the other physical technologies or in the application of the physical sciences, which is or will be for the benefit of the Earth's climate.
Virgin invites all interested individuals or teams to complete an Entry Form to register to participate in the Virgin Earth Challenge. ...
2. Guidelines and Participation Agreement
These Guidelines (and the Participation Agreement (see below)) form the basis of the rules that will govern the Virgin Earth Challenge. However, the Virgin Earth Challenge will be subject to more detailed rules, terms and conditions. The full rules, terms and conditions will be adopted within 60 days following the official launch of the Virgin Earth Challenge on 9 February 2007. Such full rules, terms and conditions will constitute a Participation Agreement to be signed by all registered entrants who wish to compete in the Virgin Earth Challenge.
3.1 Virgin reserves the right to publish details of the entrants and/or winners of a cash award ("Winners") and any Design(s) on the virgin.com website and in other promotional and publicity material as it considers appropriate, including (without limitation) for the purpose of promoting the Virgin group. By entering, entrants agree that they will be willing and available to participate in publicity and promotional activities and events and/or press conferences and that Virgin shall be entitled to use entrants' names, photographs, country of residence (but not full address) and other relevant information in publicity throughout all media free of charge.
3.2 Entrants shall not take part (or agree to take part) in any media coverage, or make any press releases or other announcements regarding participation in the Virgin Earth Challenge without the prior agreement of Virgin. No entrant shall refer to the Virgin Earth Challenge or permit it to be referred to by any third party for the purpose of promoting or publicising any company or business other than Virgin.
3.3 Any entrant which goes on to implement or exploit any Design submitted to the Virgin Earth Challenge shall reference the Virgin Earth Challenge (in a form to be agreed with Virgin) in all relevant materials produced in connection with the implementation and/or exploitation of such Design.
4. How to enter the Virgin Earth Challenge
4.1 In order to register to enter the Virgin Earth Challenge, each entrant must submit a completed copy of the Entry Form (signed by all members of the team) to:
Virgin Earth Challenge
120 Campden Hill Road
London W8 7AR
4.2 An entrant can submit an Entry Form registering to enter the Virgin Earth Challenge at any time during the currency of the competition (see clause 9 below).
4.3 Entrants who have submitted an Entry Form will receive a Participation Agreement which is to be signed by all registered entrants who wish to compete in the Virgin Earth Challenge. Only entrants who have submitted a duly completed Entry Form will be entitled to enter into a Participation Agreement (when it is available) and to compete in the Virgin Earth Challenge. Registration for the Virgin Earth Challenge is not complete until receipt of a signed Participation Agreement and any entrant who does not sign the Participation Agreement will not be eligible to compete in the Virgin Earth Challenge.
5. Submission of a Design
5.1 Only Designs received from registered entrants who have signed a Participation Agreement will be considered for entry into the Virgin Earth Challenge.
5.2 Entrants must submit each Design entry in writing by post or by hand to:
Virgin Earth Challenge
120 Campden Hill Road
London W8 7AR
5.3 The Virgin Earth Challenge is free to enter but each entrant shall bear the costs if any of researching, preparing and submitting his/her Design(s).
5.4 The number of Design entries per entrant is not limited.
5.5 The Design submission should be sufficiently detailed and clear to enable the judges to analyse properly and to form a view on all elements of the Design including the method and any possible side effects of exploitation of the Design.
5.6 By entering the Virgin Earth Challenge, each entrant agrees to be bound by these Guidelines and the Participation Agreement (once signed).
6.1 Entries will not be returned.
6.2 By entering, each entrant confirms that the submitted Design is original, is the entrant's own work, is not in breach of any obligation of confidence, is not in violation of any applicable laws, does not infringe any other third party rights of whatever nature and that the entrant has all rights and permissions necessary to submit the Design to the Virgin Earth Challenge and to exploit (or grant rights to exploit) the Design anywhere in the World. Each entrant hereby indemnifies Virgin and the judges against any and all loss, damages or liability which they might incur by reason of any breach or alleged breach of this paragraph or these Guidelines.
6.3 Entrants shall be solely responsible to ensure that they take appropriate steps to protect the intellectual property rights in their Design whether by way of applying for patent, design or other registered intellectual property right protection or otherwise.
7.1 Entries will be judged according to the following criteria:
(a) ability of the Design to achieve the Removal Target;
(b) technical viability;
(c) commercial viability;
(d) effectiveness and efficiency;
(f) harmful effects and/or other incidental consequences of the solution;
(g) other contributions to the reduction in environmental greenhouse gases;
(h) longevity of effects; and
(i) any other criteria which the judges decide in their discretion are relevant.
7.2 Entrants may be required to provide further information to assist the judges in assessing the Design and each entrant agrees to fully co-operate with the judges. Information which is not in the public domain and is marked by the entrant as confidential shall be treated as confidential by Virgin and the judges.
7.3 Any cash awards ("Awards") will be awarded at the discretion of the judges. The decision of the judges shall be final and no correspondence will be entered into.
8.1 Judging of all submitted Designs will be conducted by a panel of judges comprising Sir Richard Branson, Sir Crispin Tickell, Al Gore, James Lovelock, Jim Hansen and Tim Flannery (provided that if any judge shall be unable to judge the entries, such judge(s) may be replaced by an alternate judge(s) selected by agreement of the remaining judges).
8.2 The judges reserve the right to take external advice and guidance from The Climate Group and/or such other experts as they consider appropriate.
8.3 No judge shall (a) have personal or financial interests in, or be an employee, officer, director, or agent of any entity that is a registered participant in the Virgin Earth Challenge (or sponsor or financier of any such participant); or (b) have a familial or financial relationship with an individual who is a registered participant or participant sponsor.
9. Challenge duration
9.1 The Virgin Earth Challenge will open on 9 February 2007 (the "Opening Date").
9.2 The Virgin Earth Challenge shall be open for an initial period of 3 years from the Opening Date and the deadline for submissions shall be 8 February 2010 (the "Closing Date").
9.3 Within 180 days after the Closing Date, the judges shall judge the entries submitted by the Closing Date.
9.4 If the judges consider that the criteria have been met and that one or more entries should win some or all of the prize pool, Awards will be awarded and the Winners will be announced by Virgin in accordance with these Guidelines.
9.5 If some or all of the prize pool has not been awarded following judging of the submissions, the Virgin Earth Challenge shall re-open for a further period and the "Closing Date" shall be extended accordingly to 8 February 2011. The judges shall repeat the judging process in accordance with paragraphs 9.3 and 9.4.
9.6 If some or all of the prize pool has not been awarded following judging of the submissions as set out in paragraph 9.5, the Virgin Earth Challenge shall re-open for a further period and the "Closing Date" shall be extended accordingly to 8 February 2012.
9.7 The Virgin Earth Challenge will close on the earlier of either (i) all of the prize pool fund being awarded; or (ii) the expiry of 5 years from the Opening Date (unless Virgin decides in its sole discretion to roll any remaining prize pool forward and leave the Virgin Earth Challenge open for a further period to be determined by Virgin in its sole and absolute discretion).
9.8 Entries submitted after any Closing Date shall not be considered unless some or all of the prize pool fund has not been won and the Virgin Earth Challenge is re-opened as set out in these Guidelines (and in any event whether such submissions shall be considered shall be in the absolute discretion of the judges).
10. The Award
10.1 The total prize pool is US$25million.
10.2 The judges may elect to award the entire prize pool funds to one Winner or to share the prize pool funds (as the judges think fit) between two or more Winners totalling US$25million in aggregate. The judges shall not be obliged to award all or any of the total prize pool funds if in the judges' absolute discretion the criteria and Removal Target are not met.
10.3 The Winner(s) will receive 20% of his/her Award upon the judges' decision to make the Award in respect of his/her Design (a "Winning Design"). The Winner(s) will receive the remaining 80% of his/her Award upon satisfactory achievement by his/her Design of the Removal Target for at least 10 consecutive years and provided all other criteria continue to be met at that time. (The intervening period between such payments shall be the "Post-Award Period".) Accordingly, if there is a single Winner of the total prize pool fund that Winner would receive US$5 million upon the judges' decision to make the Award and the remaining US$20 million following achievement of the Removal Target and other criteria for 10 years.
10.4 Winners shall provide to Virgin from time to time upon request during the Post-Award Period all information which may be requested by it in relation to any Winning Design (and any subsequent improvements, variations or developments of such Winning Design). ...
11.2 Details of Winners will be published on virgin.com. ...
13.1 The promoter of the Virgin Earth Challenge shall be the Virgin company specified as such in the Participation Agreement ("Virgin"). ...
From: Virgin Earth Challenge Guidelines, Virgin, 2007