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X Prize to Inspire Super-Efficient Vehicles
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The non-profit X Prize Foundation, known worldwide for its efforts to encourage private spaceflight, is launching a new competition to develop super-efficient vehicles that are capable of succeeding in the marketplace. The international, multi-year challenge aims to inspire teams to build desirable, affordable, fuel-efficient, and production-capable vehicles by offering a multi-million dollar cash purse. The contest is open to auto manufacturers and independent innovators alike.

The so-called “Automotive X Prize” will be a catalyst for practical innovations and may cause revolutionary changes in an industry fueled largely by non-renewable energy sources, according to the X Prize Foundation. “Our addiction to oil is hurting consumers, undermining the economy, exacerbating international conflicts, damaging the environment, and threatening the health of the planet,” notes Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, the group’s founder and chairman. “We have made great progress in designing a competition that will capture the public’s imagination to solve these problems.”

Although there have been many contests to design super-efficient vehicles, this one is unique because of its emphasis on market viability, according to Neal Anderson, senior director of the Automotive X Prize. Participating teams must develop a business plan for producing at least 10,000 cars per year. The contest is divided into two classes: the mainstream class, in which teams develop more conventional vehicles with four wheels and room for four or more passengers, and the alternative class, which allows for more innovation but is allotted a smaller share of the prize money.

The competition's draft guidelines are open for a 60-day public comment period, although certain basic criteria are unlikely to change. These include safety, affordability, and the completion of a long-distance road test. Vehicles must produce very low (or no) emissions and exceed 100 miles per gallon of gasoline or its energy equivalent. In other words, whether the car runs on biofuels, hydrogen, electricity, or solar power, the energy put into fueling each 100 miles can be no more than that of one gallon of gasoline.

“Prizes are a great catalyst for inspiring innovation,” Anderson says. He notes that aviator Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic Ocean to win a prize and that the 2004 Ansari X Prize successfully challenged teams to build and launch private spacecraft. Earlier this year, British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson offered $25 million to the person who creates a commercially viable method of removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Although there will be only one winner for each Automotive X Prize class, other participants may be able to take their designs to market anyway. “This is about inspiring a new generation of super-efficient vehicles,” Anderson notes. “We want to create many heroes through this competition.”

This story was produced by Alana Herro of Eye on Earth, a joint project of the Worldwatch Institute and the blue moon fund.

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Though the automotive X Prize for efficiency would spur innovation, cost-effectiveness may be a more relevant goal. Equivalents to one gallon of gasoline vary in cost (as well as the engines/fuel -ells that use them). A much better goal is the lowest cost of ownership per mile. Basically, finding the cheapest way of traveling from A to B.

Sir Branson's challenge seems easy. Plants continuously remove CO2 from the atmosphere and are certainly commercially viable (major landscaping, reforestation, natural buffers against floods etc). An interesting solution would be to use ethanol as a fuel source, which is essentially carbon-neutral. CO2 from ethanol burning engines would eventually return to the structures of the plants initially used to produce ethanol. The net effect is CO2 being recycled between the atmosphere and biomass, instead of it moving from underground (in the form of fossil fuel) to the atmosphere. This wouldn't remove carbon dioxide from the air permanently, but it helps halt adding more.

Posted by: John on 5 Apr 07

I think that the X Prize model is a great one and I just wish there were more ogranizations like this one. After looking around the X Prize site I failed to see who was funding this one or how much money the prize is. Does anyone know? I've posted something about this at my own blog so feel free to respond to me here or there.

Posted by: Alex on 5 Apr 07



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