Wendy Schmidt, wife of Google CEO, funds $1.4M X PRIZE Challenge for oil spill cleanup

At the National Press Club in Washington, DC Thursday, the X PRIZE Foundation launched its $1.4 million oil spill clean-up competition called the Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X Challenge. The Foundation, which currently also has a $10 million challenge to develop a 100 mile per gallon car, first announced this competition at an independently organized TED event in June dedicated to the Deepwater Horizon oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico.

But it was not announced at that time who the benefactor of the prize would be. Today, it was announced that the funds for the challenge have been put up by none other than Wendy Schmidt, wife of Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and president of the Schmidt Family Foundation.

The challenge will reward three grants totaling $1.4 million to entrepreneurs, engineers, or scientists who can develop and deploy an efficient way to capture crude oil from the surface of the ocean.

Schmidt describes the reason for the contribution in very familiar terms, "When I think about it, I realize we are looking at an old operating system: last century's energy infrastructure coupled with an inadequate and out-of-date understanding of the human relationship with natural resources. We need Version 2.0. The sooner the better."

The first phase of the challenge will take place between August 2010 and April 2011, where teams from around the world can submit their proposals to a panel of judges who will determine each submission's technical and commercial viability, its impact on the environment, its scalability and cost, and the degree to which it improves current technologies.

The judges will choose 10 submissions, and the teams who developed them will have to demonstrate their proofs of concept in a head to head competition at the National Oil Spill Response Research and Renewable Energy Test Facility (OHSMETT) in New Jersey.

Currently, there are three prizes. A $1 million Grand Purse, $300,000 second place, and $100,000 third place. The X PRIZE Foundation is hoping to attract more philanthropists and venture capitalists to contribute and improve the prize. On the group's Oil Cleanup Challenge site it is also accepting donations from anyone with an interest in advancing the cleanup innovation.

"This taps into the grassroots, entrepreneurial spirit that made this country so great," said Philippe Cousteau, CEO of EarthEcho International and grandson of legendary oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau. "I think we owe a healthy, robust environment not only to ourselves, but especially to future generations."

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