The teams in the final round of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition are advancing clean technologies that turn harmful carbon dioxide emissions into useful products such as enhanced concrete, liquid fuels, plastics and carbon fiber.

But how can we be sure these breakthrough processes really deliver environmental benefits while creating valuable products for everyday use?

The answer: A technology verification team from Southern Research.

During the Carbon XPRIZE Finals, specialists from Southern Research’s Energy & Environment (E&E) division will validate the work of the teams  and provide a judging panel with the crucial data needed to select two winners that will collect $7.5 million prizes.

Southern Research Carbon XPRIZE
C4X, based in China, is one of the 10 finalists in the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition. Their banner welcomes the Southern Research team. (IMAGE: XPRIZE)

The specialists have been involved in the previous rounds of the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition, which has been under way for more than two years. (Read about the Round 2 work.)

“These teams are offering amazing examples of carbon conversion that could accelerate the creation a new carbon economy,” said Dr. Marcius Extavour, Senior Director, Energy and Resources at the non-profit XPRIZE.

“To win the competition, XPRIZE wants to see robust verifiable processes. That’s why we have partnered with Southern Research, which has the deep expertise to validate each team’s performance and help the judges evaluate each technology on its merits.”

KICKING OFF THE FINALS

Southern Research’s work in the Carbon XPRIZE Finals began Tuesday, May 22, at an initial Team Finalist Summit in Banff, Canada. It won’t end until February 2020, when the formal technology verification process comes to an end and data on the results from the 10 teams are supplied to the judges.

“Our team will independently evaluate data produced by the teams in the competition to document the performance of each process and its ability to capture and utilize CO2,” said Tim Hansen, P.E., director of E&E and measurement and verification lead for the project.

“We’ll also be looking at the operating costs, energy consumption and water use of their technologies, and compiling competition scores for each team,” he added.

Southern Research Tim Hansen
Tim Hansen is director of Cleantech Services at Southern Research.

Hansen said Southern Research specialists will work closely with XPRIZE and the finalists to make sure they are prepared for the verification process and able to provide reliable data for the judges’ inspection.

The specialists will participate in design reviews for each of the teams, and will provide suggested instrumentation, measurement, and engineering approaches for critical measurements and processes such as CO2 flows and product outputs. The specialists will also help establish common analytical procedures and approaches that support a determination of the amount of CO2 embodied in each product.

The technology verification period begins in June 2019 and runs through February 2020.

“We think the teams have some significant work to do in terms of designing, building, and operating their systems at this much larger scale – a metric tonne of CO2 input per day,” Hansen said. “That said, several have good starts, and we expect them, with our help and the help of the XPRIZE team, to have a good chance of meeting the Finals’ requirements.

“There are still many challenges, though, beyond just the engineering requirements of scaling a process – funding, working at new, remote host sites, permitting, off-take agreements for products, and did I mention funding?” he added.

SCALING TECHNOLOGY

For the teams, the challenges have grown considerably more complicated in the Finals.

Southern Research Carbon XPRIZE
The 10 finalists in the Carbon XPRIZE competition each have a chance to win a $7.5 million grand prize. Southern Research will validate their technologies. (IMAGE: XPRIZE)

For Round 2, they had to show off their technologies at pilot scale. In the Finals, the teams will have access one of two test centers adjacent to power plants and must prove their technologies at near industrial scale using actual power plant flue gas. The sites are the Integrated Test Center in Gillette, Wyoming, and the Alberta Carbon Conversion Centre in Calgary, Alberta.

Teams must meet the competition’s minimum requirements and will be scored on how much CO2 they convert and on the net value of their products.

The competition has been divided into two tracks, with the winner of each track evenly splitting a $15 million prize purse in March 2020.

The 10 teams, hailing from five countries, range from carbon capture and utilization entrepreneurs and startups to academic institutions and companies that have been working on CO2 challenges for more than a decade.

Southern Research’s role in the Carbon XPRIZE competition aligns with its longstanding capabilities. The Birmingham-based non-profit organization has performed independent, non-biased and high-quality environmental technology verification (ETV) services to a wide range of sponsors for more than two decades.

“We can conduct tests and evaluations beginning with proof of concept at laboratory scale all the way through commercial scale technology deployed in the field, in a working environment,” Hansen said. “We have everything required — the scientists, engineers, facilities and capabilities — to address the whole range of energy and environmental technology development and testing programs.”


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