Elon Musk offers $100mn prize for the best carbon capture technology

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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Representational Image

The co-founder of American electric carmaker Elon Musk said he plans to donate $100 million toward a prize for the best carbon capture technology, weeks after he briefly became the world’s richest person.

Mr. Musk made the announcement on Twitter, his preferred medium of communication, and said details will follow soon.

Elon Musk’s net worth surged in the past year, boosting him past eCommerce giant Amazon founder Jeff Bezos for a small period, as the carmaker delivered consistent profits, attracted scores of retail investors and earned inclusion in the S&P 500 Index. A slide in Tesla’s stock price dropped him back a spot and the South African-born entrepreneur is now worth $201.4 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

One of his first reactions on becoming the wealthiest human, after an initial shrug, was to welcome advice on how to give it away. Mr. Musk, 49, is new to philanthropy compared with those he just overtook on the Bloomberg ranking of the world’s 500 wealthiest people.

He has signed the Giving Pledge, an initiative launched by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and business magnate Warren Buffett that asks signatories to donate at least half of their wealth within their lifetimes. But Mr. Musk has done relatively little publicly in the way of charity. He has donated more than $257 million to the Musk Foundation, equivalent to about 0.1 percent of his current net worth, which in turn distributed $65 million between 2016 and 2018 to about 200 nonprofits, according to an analysis.

Mr. Musk has indicated that the reason he’s accumulating wealth is to give it away, or at least redirect it to his passion projects, namely, space exploration. “It’s going to take a lot of resources to build a city on Mars,” he said. “I want to be able to contribute as much as possible.”

By turning to social media for input on philanthropy, Mr. Musk is following in the path of Mr. Bezos, who asked his followers on Twitter for suggestions on charitable giving in 2017.

Focus on carbon capture

Elon Musk’s focus on carbon capture is in line with his other business interests, which largely focus on technological solutions to urgent environmental problems.

Carbon capture and storage is a mix of different technologies, which all share one goal that is to trap carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that’s warming the planet, and stopping it from being dumped in the atmosphere. It can be installed to capture emissions from power plants, industry or even directly from the air.

There are about two dozen large scale plants around the world, which can capture about 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, about 0.1 percent of the global annual total.

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