X-Prize Goes Energy—With “Crazy Green Idea” Prize to Debut at MIT Today

9/10/08Follow @bbuderi

A prize for a prize. That’s essentially the reason a trio of heavyweights—Ray Kurzweil, Xconomist George Church, and Saul Griffith—will be on hand at MIT this afternoon, as they help announce a $25,000 prize for whomever comes up with the best idea for a $10 million energy and environment prize to be awarded by the X Prize Foundation.

More specifically, the $25K will be offered for the best YouTube video proposal for the big kahuna energy prize. The contest itself will be formally announced at a forum called “Seeking Radical Breakthroughs in Alternative Energy—What I Would Advise the Next President,” which will be held at 4:30 this afternoon in MIT Building 34, room 101 (you can find a few more details here).

The competition for the $25K prize should be tough. In addition to tapping various experts and its public YouTube call, the foundation is hosting the X PRIZE Lab @ MIT, a class this fall that focuses on the energy and environment sector. According to a press release, “The semester-long X PRIZE Lab class is asking students to conceive potential X PRIZEs that could help solve aspects of global warming and resource depletion. Last semester, the X PRIZE Lab @ MIT focused on healthcare. Students in the class proposed a Tuberculosis (TB) Diagnostics X PRIZE that would have the potential to save more than 1.6 million lives per year. The TB Diagnostics prize proposal was awarded a grant and is now being developed into an official X PRIZE.”

Here are the guidelines for your YouTube video submissions.

The winning video must answer the following three questions:

1. What is the specific prize idea?

2. What is the Grand Challenge or world-wide problem that you are trying to solve?

3. How will this prize benefit humanity?

Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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  • Lawrence Zeitlin

    During a stint as a Fullbright Professor in India, I noted that a substantial amount of cooking in rural regions is still done with dried cow dung. The dung is hand shaped into pancake sized patties, air dried, and then used in small stoves. While an ecologically sound solution to the fuel problem, the fuel patties are less than optimum as a source of heat. The large surface area of a dried patty ignites and burns hot then emits less heat as the size and surface area is reduced. The cook will add more patties to maintain heat. This is wasteful.

    Back when I was in the aerospace industry we encountered a similar problem with solid fuel rockets. As the area of the propulsion core changed, the thrust would increase or decrease depending on the shape, making control difficult. The answer was to shape the fuel so that the burning area would remain constant during combustion. Correct design of a charge, either as a hollow cylinder or a thick cross would permit the surface area available for combustion to remain constant.

    Rather than shaping cow dung fuel patties by hand, a simple constant combustion area mold or press would permit the rapid production of fuel patties that would offer uniform heat throughout the cooking process. These could be made cheaply out of plastic and distributed to villages. Since about 1/2 of all energy used for cooking in rural India comes from cow dung, the process would offer immeasurable savings for the Indian economy.