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From clean stoves to carbon capture, Prince William’s Earthshot Prizes take the sustainability crown

A portrait of Prince William, heir to the throne of England, smiling and wearing a blue shirt, seated beneath a grove of trees.
Image Credit: Earthshot Prize

In 1962 President John F. Kennedy gave his famous “Moonshot” speech challenging Americans to go to the Moon by the end of the decade. And in the summer of 1969, the United States’ Apollo 11 was the first crewed mission to land on the Moon. That’s the namesake of Prince William’s Earthshot prize, which awards five winners £1 million each year for their contributions to saving the planet.

In his speech, Kennedy describes the Moon landing as a ”goal [that] will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.” The “challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win…”

The same fervor is needed for our climate crisis: a worldwide challenge, requiring the best of innovation, that we can’t postpone.

As climate change demands a diversity of solutions, Prince William’s Earthshot prize aims to scour the globe for those that will solve our biggest environmental challenges, identify the solutions projected to have the most significant impact, accelerate the program’s finalists, award in direct funding, and scale those that they believe will have the greatest impact.

There are "many reasons to be optimistic" about the planet's future, the Prince said as he unveiled the finalists, dispersed amongst five categories: “protect and restore nature,” “clean our air,” “revive our oceans,” “build a waste-free world,” and “fix our climate.”

Finalists range from startup Kheyti’s Greenhouse-in-a-Box which allows small-hold farms to shelter crops from unpredictable elements and destructive pests to the entire city of Amsterdam to the American company Lanzatech’s carbon capture utilization products.

In Oman, startup 44.01, is working to permanently store that carbon by turning it into rocks. Aptly named after the molecular weight of carbon dioxide, the company permanently removes the greenhouse gas by mineralizing it in peridotite, an olive-toned rock found across the world, most predominantly in Oman.

Peridotite mineralization is a natural process, but because in nature it can take years for the rock to mineralize a minuscule amount of CO2, the company accelerates the process by pumping carbonated water into seams of peridotite deep underground.

44.01 a, “fix our climate” finalist, will mineralize 1,000 tons of locally-captured CO2 until 2024 with its first project, and by 2040, aims to multiply that number to a billion. Already, the startup employs engineers and geologists previously working in the fossil fuel industry.

Other finalists are attacking our carbon problem like the United Kingdom’s Low Carbon Materials which is on a quest to decarbonize concrete and Roam, a Kenyan startup aiming to electrify the famous East African motorcycle Boda Bodas, which just so happens to be one of the highest emitting vehicles on the market.

Also in Kenya, Mukuru Clean Stoves is aiming to solve a different problem: stove pollution. Across Africa, 700 million people use traditional cookstoves, which emit harmful chemicals and lack safeguards. Now 200,000 people in Kenya are using Mukuru Clean Stoves, which use processed biomass made from charcoal, wood, and sugarcane, creating 90% less pollution than an open fire and 70% less than a traditional cookstove. According to the company, these stoves are saving $10 million in fuel costs, while only costing $10 each.

On the road to decarbonization, Hong Kong, entrepreneur and finalist Brandon Ng invented an all-electric battery energy storage system designed specifically to power construction sites without the need for direct use of fossil fuels. Called the Enertainer, Ng’s invention has the potential to curb 130 tons of annual CO2 for every diesel generator it replaces in addition to removing the equivalent of three hundred cars of air pollution. The child of the startup Ampd, the Enertainer is already used in 100 construction projects.

Other finalists are working toward a waste-free world. Indian startup Phool originally set out to solve flower pollution in the Ganges River, but in total accident discovered a thick mat-like substance: a byproduct to the incense the company makes from the Ganges’s flower waste. Now, the startup is able to make a sustainable alternative to environmentally damaging animal and plastic leather, a material it calls Fleather.

Also working to restore their waters, is Queensland Indigenous Women Rangers Network. Over the last four years, the Earthshot Finalist has trained over 60 women to repair ecosystems from Queensland and Hawaii to Nepal and Tanzania. Specifically, in Queensland, the women combine ancient knowledge with modern tools, like coral, fire, and land-monitoring drones to combat bushfires caused by extreme warming.

Startup Great Bubble Barrier is also working to revive the oceans with a bubble pump invention designed to catch plastics before they reach the waters. Across the Netherlands, several of their “bubble barriers” are installed, each month in the capital Amsterdam preventing 8,000 pieces of plastic waste from leaving the canal and entering the North Sea.

The finalists’ quest to restore the oceans doesn’t stop there. SeaForester, a Portugal-based startup offers mobile seaweed nurseries to coastal communities worldwide, to scale seaweed as a powerful tool for capturing CO2, reversing ocean acidification, boosting marine biodiversity, and improving water quality. London finalist Notpla is also harnessing the power of seaweed by using it to replace plastic packaging.

From desert rejuvenation across China to working to better human and wildlife relations in Malaysia, these finalists are striving toward a better, cleaner, and more sustainable world. Over the next 10 years, Earthshot will see £50 million distributed. According to BBC, the five winners selected from this cohort will be announced at an awards gala on December 2, 2022.

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