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X Prize offers cash for oil spill cleaners

Today the Gulf, tomorrow the world

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This Thursday, the X Prize Foundation will announce its next competition: a challenge to inventors and entrepreneurs to find ways to clean up after such environmental disasters as BP's Gulf gusher.

The effort won't encompass the entire mess that BP has made, nor will it target all the oil released in future underwater discharges of Texas tea. It will, in the words of the Foundation's announcement of its upcoming announcement: "inspire entrepreneurs, engineers, and scientists worldwide to develop innovative, rapidly deployable, and highly efficient methods of capturing crude oil from the ocean surface."

That's a laudable goal, to be sure, but a large percentage of BP's cock-up crude never made it to the ocean's surface — it remains suspended below the surface, making it immeasurably more difficult to recover.

The Playa Vista, California, non-profit Foundation says that Thursday's announcement will include details on the scope of the competition, team rules, and the size of the prize purse.

The Foundation will also announce the "competition benefactor" — and although Cisco Systems is the "Presenting Sponsor" of the Foundation's Energy and Environment Prize Group, that's no guarantee that the networking megacorp will be fronting the cash for the prize winners.

The Foundation is perhaps best known for the Ansari X Prize, a $10m award to the first privately funded vehicle that could complete two trips to above 100km within a two weeks. That prize was won on October 4, 2004 — the anniversary of the 1957 flight of the first-ever satellite, the Soviet Union's Sputnik — by SpaceShipOne, designed by Bert Rutan and funded by Microsoft co-founder and squillionaire Paul Allen.

Other X Foundation prizes are still out there, waiting to be won. The $10m Archon Genomics X Prize will be awarded to the first team that can sequence 100 human genomes in 10 days. A $20m chunk of the Google Lunar X Prize will go to the first team to send a privately funded vehicle to the moon and drop off a robot that can travel 500m and transmit video, images and data back to us Terrans, with another $10m reserved for other lunar feats. And the $10m Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize invites inventors to come up with vehicles that can exceed 100 MPGe (miles per gallon gasoline equivalent).

Among the presenters at Thursday's press conference will be Peter Diamandis, the Foundation's founder and chairman, and Philippe Cousteau, grandson of the celebrated Jacques-Yves Cousteau and CEO of EarthEcho International, and enviro group that works "to empower youth to take action that restores and protects our water planet."

The Foundation did not announce whether BP's newly named CEO, Bob Dudley, will attend — but The Reg recommends not betting on his attendance. ®

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