Kenyan Students Named Winners in Elon Musk's Ksh 500M Prize

  • A file image of US billionaire Elon Musk
    A file image of US billionaire Elon Musk.
  • A Kenyan team will be smiling all the way to the bank after they were crowned winners of a prize from US billionaire Elon Musk's foundation.

    The team, Takachar (Safi Organics), was awarded on Wednesday, November 10, alongside 22 other teams drawn from around the world.

    The foundation had called for teams with concepts for capturing Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and oceans to make applications as part of the Carbon Removal Student Competition, XPRIZE.

    Terms of the applications included submission of concepts for CO2 removal and measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) technologies.

    An illustration of Oxygen-lean Torrefaction developed by Takachar
    An illustration of Oxygen-lean Torrefaction developed by Takachar.

    The foundation, which seeks to award Ksh10 billion(US$100 million ), has already given out Ksh500 million to the winning teams. Those that concentrated on CO2 removal bagged Ksh25 million(US$250,000) while those that were investigating Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) technologies earned Ksh10 million (US$100,000).

    "We want to make a truly meaningful impact. Carbon negativity, not neutrality. The ultimate goal is scalable carbon extraction technologies that are measured based on the ‘fully considered cost per ton’ which includes the environmental impact.

    "This is not a theoretical competition; we want teams that will build real systems that can make a measurable impact and scale to a gigaton level. Whatever it takes, time is of the essence,” stated Musk.

    In order to be eligible for the Carbon Removal Student Competition, student teams needed at least 50% of their members to be currently enrolled in an educational institution with the support of an academic advisor or business leader able to act as a formal mentor.

    Launched in April, XPRIZE Carbon Removal is a Ksh10 billion (US$100 million) four-year global competition that invites innovators and teams from anywhere on the planet to create and demonstrate solutions that can pull carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or oceans.

    To win the grand prize, teams must demonstrate a working solution at a scale of at least 1000 tonnes removed per year; model their costs at a scale of 1 million tonnes per year; and show a pathway to achieving a scale of gigatonnes per year in future, as validated by a third party.

    According to its site, Takachar notes that it is "on a mission to address climate change by transforming massive amounts of waste biomass into marketable products around the world."

    The company developed a novel concept called Oxygen-lean Torrefaction, a patented design of small-scale, low-cost, portable equipment to convert waste biomass into solid fuel, fertilizer, and other speciality chemicals.

    For its efforts, the team has received numerous awards including being named in the Forbes 30 Under 30 as well as earning recognition at Massachusetts Clean Energy Center.

    A file photo of US billionaire Elon Musk
    A file photo of US billionaire Elon Musk.