Next from X Prize: An Award for Cleaning up BP's Oil Spill?

By Andrew Moseman | June 30, 2010 9:49 am

x-prizeBP can’t clean up its mess. Kevin Costner’s trying. But if you know how to clean up the leaking oil in the Gulf of Mexico, you could be a winner.

The X Prize Foundation says this week that it’s considering the creation of a multimillion-dollar prize for the solution to cleaning the BP oil spill. This is the same organization that put together awards of $10 million or more for private spacecraft and high mileage cars. The foundation’s Frances Beland announced the idea at an oil spill conference in Washington, D.C.

Beland said the foundation wanted to come up with a prize to find a solution to capping the well but found it was unable to obtain enough data to design such a challenge, so it opted to focus on the cleanup. “We’re going to launch a prize for cleanup, and we’re going to kick ass,” he said, to applause. Beland said 35,000 solutions to the Gulf crisis have been proposed to BP, the government and other organizations, including the X Prize Foundation [CNN].

ApteraDespite Beland’s high-flying rhetoric, many teams are finding little success in the other X Prize events that are ongoing. The Automotive X Prize, intend to reward cars that can exceed 100 miles per gallon, went through its knockout stage to narrow the competition before next month’s finals. Many of the entries fell by the wayside, unable to meet the milestones of at least 67 MPG or equivalent (MPGe) needed at this stage. (The “equivalent” business is necessary because many of the experimental vehicles use energy sources other than gasoline.)

The Knockout outcome was particularly disappointing for the West Philly team, a high-school group that garnered more and more attention as the contest progressed…. West Philly’s converted Ford Focus fell 3.5 points short of the required efficiency score of 67 MPGe, apparently due in part to a battery-charging snafu [MSNBC].

In addition, some of the car entries stretch the competition definition of being something you could sell to ordinary drivers. As DISCOVER saw when we visited the Shell Eco-Marathon, you can make cars that score way, way above 100 MPG if you sacrifice just about everything else in pursuit of that goal. The Auto X Prize cars are closer to what you might see on the road, but many of the designs are still a little out there.

And given the teams’ struggles to meet even 67 MPG while staying within the competition’s rules, there’s a chance that the winner will be… nobody.

“The prize money’s not won if you’re not successful,” said Eric Cahill, X Prize’s senior director. He added that it’s “entirely possible” that no competitor will achieve the target. “When the rules were first published, we received a lot of heat that this was too easy,” Mr. Cahill said. But as batteries overheated, sensors malfunctioned and cars struggled to cut through densely humid air, the target looks anything but easy [The New York Times].

Thinking back to the mess in the Gulf, we can’t help but reflect on that ever-growing list of 35,000 ideas for the cleanup: Hopefully at least one of them has what it takes.

Related Content:
DISCOVER: Should American Science Be More Like “American Idol”?
80beats: BP to Kevin Costner: We’ll Take 32 of Your Oil Clean-Up Machines
80beats: Lunar X Prize Competitor Hopes to Send a Rover Back to Tranquility Base
Discoblog: Shell Eco-Marathon: Meet the 1,000 MPG Cars of the Future

Image: Aptera

  • MsLabMgr

    This catastrophe is NOT fixable. The winner will have to build a time machine that will allow us to go back and stop this from happening in the first place.

  • Garrett

    From about 20 miles away from the spill make a series of turbines on the sea floor to move the water in a certain direction and contain the oil as long as it is monitored. It will contain enough to make a change from there I can only leave it to you.

  • Jake Halapir

    I am very confident that a solution for the oil spill is very posible. I was unsuccessfuly trying to get the technical information c/w all the dimensions on the pipe system below and above the ocean floor. If you have any means to get this info for me, or direct me to the proper source, I am very confident that I could find a solution. I do have a mechanical background as well as the strong ability in problem solving. I was also an owner of the manufacturing company which provided a turn key operations (machining, fabricating and millwrighting). I am retired today. Thanks.

  • thomas cunningham

    the solution to cleaning up the beaches is a simple one, ,mother nature will do its part and clean the gulf waters.

    netting should be stretched along the beaches the mesh diameter should be small enough to trap the oil blobs as they come in with the tide, they need to be set along the beaches in a special config

    nets can be emptied when the tide goes out and reset to the next high tide mark.

    man has been using nets for a long time to capture many things, and they can be used agin to clean up the gulf beaches of a high percentage of the oil that is being washed up.

    I am just a working guy that knows that this simple solution will truly assist in cleaning up the beaches.

  • Scott

    Work on this exciting challenge as part of a team-

  • Gerald Don Jones

    The oil spill problem,
    1.10 inch broken pipe 1 mile deep in Gulf of Mexico, allowing oil at pressures excceding 46,000 psi to free flow. There appears to be other unanounced spillage from different junctures in the broken pipe, and fissure points in the ocean floor spiling oil in the local vacinity of the International press coverage of the televised pipe a direct result of the Horizon dilling platform operations.
    2. There is reported large under water oil Blossoms that are not surfacing to the oil slick surface area, Suggestions support the idea that only 10 % of the spillage is exposed as surface area residue available to current metnods of clean up.
    Immediate goals,
    1. Stop the gushing oil, from the pipes, fissures.
    2. Cause the bottom lying oil blossoms to rise to accomadate current clean up methods.
    A. cause the bottom lying oil blossoms to congeal into single bodys of containment at bottom Ocean depths for extraction methods to allow the ocean bottom ecological environment to stablizze to a point where natural environment recovery may take place.
    3. Determmine if Zoolocial froms of life are fleeing the contaimated area , as a survival of species instinict, and to what areas and depths they have fled an if mankind has the applicable knowledge to spur the variant of secies to futher evacuate the areas of contamination.
    Proposed Solutions
    1. Use a Series of Stratigic Tactical nuclear weapons, at this writing I suggest The Jimmy Carter Era, Neutron Bomb, detonated in sequence over the pipes and fissure to using the expended plasma tempreture and force to over come the gushing psi and the fusing of the ocean bottom into a geoplasma pressure patch stopping the various spillage points at one time.
    A. Advantages of The Neutron Bomb.
    1a. The nutron bomb is constructed in such a way to first explode and the resulting Plasma will vaporise the spillage local points and vaporize the same local point oil contamination to vapor gas to rise to the surface and form gasious clouds of methaine and benzines and other combustable gas for arial ignition and burn. The rising of these lighter gases will cause the oxygen produced to stratatise at and immedient deeper depths to replenish the oxygen depleated contaminated area and aid hte following burn. the secondary explosion that causes the implosion effect of the Neutron bomb will cause the ocean botto to flood back into the target area to cool and seal the spilling target, the Salt water itself will retard released Gamma Radiation limiting the area of exposure this self same implosion effect also will help contain the radioactive materials used in the bombs constructions radio active asorbtion affected sediments of the ocean floor.
    2a.The maximum exposure area of the initial explosion by the Neutorn bomb design is about and under those presures at a mile deep limited to less than 300 yards circumference total radiant exposure.The gamma rays expiture will aid as a congealant to the exposed oil blossom in the immedate area.Because of the Stragtic target capability this will allow exact charting for future use as and oil exploration area. The Gulf stream will assist with ecological recovery of the immediate area along the the reoxgenated strta of ocean water to encourage the return of marine life.
    3b. cease the disspurant application at the innital spill area, My theroy is the dispersant is the cause of the under water oil blossoms by binding in such a way that the dispersed oil is lighter thand the Blossoms of underlying oil hindering futer clean-up by current applied methods and is in affectiive burying the largest mass of the spill out of sight hendering the separtion of the oil in shallow depths.
    4c. The oil industry has conucted the most intense examination of base crude oil chemicaly, I propose that a method of congealing the bottom blossoms into a consistancy that would accomidate to a lager degree throgh means of sucking of to a resultant degree to solidify the large crude blossoms on the oceand bottom that is depleated of oxygen and life to a point where robotics could mine the moving body of residue and process thhis residue to a useable petroleum products, with action this congealing effect could secure the Blossoms to the ocean bottom in a fashion effective against Huricanes and their seasonal occurance, to aid in the clean-up and Its projected prolonged years to a sucessful clean ocean and ecological recovery for both plant and marine life.
    &: Prior to this all marine life should be if within the knoledge bank of mankind to cause living marine to evacute the entirity or most part of the contaminated area to initate these new methods of deep ocean clean-up to a point where a restocking from other word fishery’s could replenish the marine life to the once again managable state prior to April 20,2010.

  • Tim

    Why not take a submarine down, throw a torpedo at it and collapse the hole in on itself. Problem fixed.

  • shirlee gothard

    Hi, I live in Abbotsford B. C. Canada, what you need to do is make a very big skirt out of thick rubber that will move with the oceans flow . Drop some very heavy pilones but far enough away from where the oil is coming out to the ocean floor. Have cables running up to the surface and build this skirt around them to contain the oil. Have a platform on the surface where the oil can be pipelined away from there. It’s almost like a giant CONDOM and the oil will be contained inside of it. Thankyou

  • Ray Wong

    This might sound silly, as I had not study the problem. What I propose is to use some type of strong fabric that allow most oil to flow through easily, as the pressure is too great otherwise. One would basically apply one layer at a time until the flow of oil stops. Something like one parachute after another and anchor each one down by some weights … etc.

  • Les voitures

    By simply expressing your knowledge you help other people via expressing your own personal observations. And I’ll let you know now your blogging served me personally. Regards


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar