Monash student team takes out climate change award funded by Elon Musk

Image credit:
Media Release by Monash University

A Monash University student team has been awarded $250,000 USD as one of the winners of the XPRIZE Carbon Removal Student Competition, sponsored by Elon Musk and the XPRIZE Foundation. 

The Monash Carbon Capture and Conversion (MC³) student team was established in April 2021 and is the only Victorian team to receive the XPRIZE Carbon Removal Student Award. The competition recognises student teams for their ability to tackle climate change by developing new technical solutions around atmospheric carbon capture and conversion.

The four-year global competition invites innovators and teams from around the world to create a solution that can pull carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere or oceans and store it away permanently in an environmental way.

MC³ was one of 23 global teams who took out the Carbon Removal Student Competition and was awarded $250,000 USD from a total of $5 million USD available to competing teams.

Chief Executive Officer of MC³ and fourth year Bachelor of Engineering and Commerce student, Emily Qiao, said the team’s key focus was on the capture of CO2 via bio-sequestration.

“We submitted a BioTechnology proposal that consisted of biologically-assisted carbon capture and conversion methods which focused on the capture of CO2 from the ocean and air via artificial forestry and microalgae cultures in novel designed floating photobioreactors.

The biomass produced from these carbon farms will then be utilised downstream, powered by bioenergy, in their transformation into cross-laminated timber, for sustainable buildings, and biochar, a charcoal that can be used for soil amendment,” said Emily.

Director of the Woodside Monash Energy Partnership, Professor Paul Webley, said he was incredibly proud to have been part of the foundation of setting up MC³ and mentoring the team.

“It’s incredible to see this student team’s work receive international support and recognition from the likes of Elon Musk and XPRIZE. For a relatively new student team to achieve this milestone just as they begin their journey to develop sustainable carbon capture technologies, is an astounding feat,” said Professor Webley.

The objective of XPRIZE is to inspire and help scale-up efficient solutions to collectively achieve the 10 gigaton per year carbon removal target by 2050, to help fight climate change and restore the Earth’s carbon balance.

Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Professor Elizabeth Croft, said the team’s achievement is a testament to the ingenuity and talent of Monash students collaborating between our Australian and Malaysian campuses, and their ability to contribute meaningful solutions to the global climate crisis even before they graduate.

“Once again, our Monash Student Teams Initiative has provided our students the platform and opportunity to shine in a high-profile global competition with truly world-changing impact,” said Professor Croft. “We are extremely proud of their efforts.”

Assistant Minister for Industry, Energy and Emissions Reduction Tim Wilson said that the team’s success is a great example of Australia’s capacity to develop and deploy new and emerging low emissions technologies, thanks to the leadership of Monash University.

“Carbon capture and storage is not just a priority technology under the Morrison Government’s Technology Investment Roadmap, it has been identified as a critical technology by the IPCC and IEA as a pathway to keep warming below 1.5 °C.”

“Australia can excel at carbon capture and storage thanks to our natural geography and Monash University students are leading the way. Their expertise and international collaborative approach will help the world reach carbon neutrality by 2050.”

Following the student award announcement, the team’s focus will adapt to the next phase of the XPRIZE Carbon Removal Competition, which will conclude on 1 February 2022. MC³ will be up against leading carbon capture, utilisation and storage organisations in the global community endeavouring to progress their technologies through tangible and verifiable means.

Recipients of the XPRIZE awards will be announced at the Sustainable Innovation Forum at COP26.

MC³ would also like to acknowledge the support it has received from its academic supervisors from Monash University and Monash Malaysia, with special mention to its primary supervisors, Professor Paul Webley, Associate Professor Akshat Tanksale, Dr Matthew Nussio and Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, Dr Jitendra Joshi, Chief Technologist for New Energy at Woodside Energy.