Your Oil Spill Cleanup Idea Could be Worth $1.4 Million

This photograph shows windrows of emulsified oil (bright orange) sprayed w/dispersant. The photo taken on April 26, 2010 as part of an aerial observation overflight. Credit NOAA.

Do you have an idea on how to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? It could earn you $1.4 million.

A new X Prize Foundation competition is challenging entrepreneurs, innovators and scientists worldwide to develop better technology to aid the cleanup efforts.

The Oil Cleanup X Challenge is funded by Wendy Schmidt, president of the Schmidt Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to advancing clean energy and the more sustainable use of natural resources.

"With tens of thousands of ocean oil platforms across the globe, and billions of barrels of oil being transported every day by tankers, it's not a question of 'if' there will be another oil spill, but 'when,'" Schmidt said in a statement.

"We need to come up with better solutions to capture oil on the surface, to minimize the harm these spills are causing to marine life, coastal wetlands, and beaches and to our livelihoods — a harm that can last for generations.”

According to the contest rules, technology developed throughout the year-long competition must improve the methods for surface oil cleanup by at least 50 percent. Technologies created for the challenge could also go toward other efforts not limited to the Gulf, such as cutting back on the impact of future oil spills from tankers, offshore drilling rigs and waste disposal.

“The feeble technology we have right now has not changed since the IXTOC spill happened 30 years ago in the Gulf,” said Philippe Cousteau, the grandson of famed filmmaker and environmental activist Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who was a panelist during a Webcast press conference held in Washington D.C. on Wednesday to discuss the competition details.

Costeau – the co-founder and CEO of EarthEcho International and co-founder of Azure Worldwide, a strategic environmental design, development and marketing company -- said that a potential spill in areas such as the Arctic “would be truly horrific” and would make the BP incident look “like a picnic.”

“Our oceans are on life support,” he continued. "We have treated the ocean as a place for toxic waste. We’ve heard nothing but doom and gloom for the past few months. We’ve also heard the spill isn’t that bad, but that’s rubbish.”

In the past, the X Prize Foundation has sponsored challenges to develop spacecraft and build fuel-efficient vehicles.

“This challenge is us saying we aren’t going to wait until someone is going to do it," Cousteau said. "We will be empowered and will find the solutions.”

Samantha Murphy
Samantha Murphy was a contributor to Live Science, covering the tech industry. She holds a degree in journalism and cinema studies from New York University.