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X Prize group eyes oil spill cleanup

It's challenged entrepreneurs to fly into space. Now the X Prize Foundation says it will award millions of dollars in a new Oil Cleanup X Challenge.

X Prize Foundation

Can you come up with the ideal solution for cleaning up the BP oil spill? If so, millions of dollars in prize money could be yours.

The X Prize Foundation on Tuesday said that its new Oil Cleanup X Challenge will dare people to devise the most innovative ways to clean up oil spills, dangling a prize purse of millions of dollars as an incentive. The challenge is designed to inspire entrepreneurs, engineers, and scientists around the world to create quick, creative, and efficient ways of capturing crude oil from the surface of the ocean, according to the foundation.

Full details are due to be revealed at the X Prixe Foundation's press conference in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. Speakers will discuss the goals of the prize, the entry rules, the actual amount of the prize money, and the benefactor donating the cash.

The group's X Challenges typically offer awards at the $1 million level and focus on technology challenges or breakthroughs that should be doable in one to two years. The more lucrative X Prizes, at the $10 million level, are large-scale competitions that typically have a three- to eight-year time frame.

Attending the Thursday press conference will be X Prize Foundation founder and chairman Peter Diamandis; Wendy Schmidt, president of the The Schmidt Family Foundation and Founder of the Foundation's 11th Hour Project; Philippe Cousteau, Jr, co-founder and CEO of Earth Echo International and Azure Worldwide and grandson of famed undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau; and Dave Gallo of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Also on hand will be officials from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the White House, Congress, various environmental groups, and others who cover the oceans and the environment.

The competition comes at an unfortunately opportune time as the U.S. has been grappling since April with a massive oil spill from a BP drilling site in the Gulf of Mexico. Struggling to clean up the mess, BP itself has been inviting ideas from others on how best to clean up the oil from the Gulf waters and beaches. Facing intense criticism over his attempts to oversee the spill efforts, CEO Tony Hayward just this week was ousted by BP's board of directors, to be replaced by Bob Dudley on October 1.

The X Prize Foundation is a nonprofit institute that awards prizes on breakthroughs that it believes will benefit mankind. Its focus is on four areas: exploration (space and oceans), life sciences, energy and environment, and education and global development.

In 2004, the foundation awarded its $10 million Ansari X prize to Burt Rutan, who flew the world's first private space vehicle, the SpaceShipOne, in a voyage backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. It has also launched other competitions, including the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize, the $10 million Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize, and the $10 million Archon X Prize for Genomics.