Friday, March 16, 2007

The $25 million Richard Branson Challenge - My Entry

You might have heard about Richard Branson’s offer of a $25,000,000 prize for a commercially viable design which will result in the reduction of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. The idea may conjure up visions of massive machines that suck in polluted air in one end, and spew out clean air at the other. More realistically, some suggest ocean fertilization, and outer-space-based systems. I doubt that either of those plans will work, so I've put together a plan of my own. This will be my entry in the Richard Branson challenge:

Submission by: Solar John

Date: March 16, 2007


Removing carbon dioxide makes little sense as long as we continue to pump it into the atmosphere at an ever-increasing rate. Any physical device or system designed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere would be ineffective, at best, without an accompanying program to reduce emissions. By the same token, an effective plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions eliminates the need for a device or system to remove carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere. The remaining carbon dioxide emissions can be absorbed by plants. Therefore my proposal has little to do with removing it, but is instead a plan to stop polluting the atmosphere in the first place.

The Design:

A gradually escalating tax on the use of fossil fuels would accomplish the goal. Primarily, this would affect electricity providers. To remain competitive, those utility companies would switch from fossil fuels to non-polluting alternatives in the generation of electricity. This, of course, will reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Individuals who continue to use electricity from polluting providers will pay at an ever increasing rate, and therefore would be compelled to use less, and eventually switch to a non-polluting provider. The polluting provider will eventually stop producing electricity, due to high costs to do so, and a lack of demand.

To a lesser extent, gasoline used in automobiles also contributes to carbon dioxide emissions. In the United States, auto manufacturers are already mandated to produce more efficient, less polluting automobiles. These constraints should continue until it becomes more economically practical to use alternatives to gas and diesel engines. This trend will spill over to other devices that currently run on gasoline, such as lawnmowers, garden tractors, and small recreational vehicles. Hybrid cars and golf carts already use electric motors, proving that electric propulsion is practical, and that the technology is already in place.

Funds collected by taxing the polluting energy providers will be used to help clean energy provider’s ramp up quickly, and to help agriculture meet the growing demand for crops with which to make biofuels. A portion of the same funds will also be used to help individuals and organizations pay for non-polluting systems, and to fund small-scale renewable energy projects. These would include solar photovoltaic systems, wind farms, small to large hydro electric power facilities, and bio-fueled heating equipment to name a few. A significant portion of the available funds would be used for reforestation efforts, resulting in an increase of CO2 absorption. Practical carbon sequestration projects might also be a component of this plan.

Benefits and drawbacks of the plan:

In addition to accomplishing the primary goal, this plan has many other benefits. It will benefit the economy by creating new jobs, especially in agriculture and manufacturing, and will result in exportable technology which will have a positive economic effect. Another desirable effect will be an ecological improvement which will benefit commercial fisheries, tourism, and recreation. The elimination of coal mining will preserve mountain ranges that currently are the victims of Mountaintop Removal Mining, stop the pollution of groundwater sources, and will mitigate other harmful effects of mining, cleaning, and transporting coal.

Those who benefit from oil and coal industries will be forced to look elsewhere for their livelihood. However, they will have time to change careers, perhaps taking advantage of the many opportunities that will result from the implementation of this plan.

A portion of crops currently used for food will be diverted to energy production instead, creating a fear of food shortages. However, the American Farmer has always met the demand for food crops, domestically and abroad, and will continue to do so in the future. Crop yields will be higher because of a cleaner atmosphere and water, a byproduct of this plan’s implementation.


This plan will accomplish the primary goal with few negative consequences. It is a common-sense approach to solving the massive global crisis we face. We need to become good stewards of the earth and sky, instead of just claiming to be. Our survival depends on it.

Solar John


Anonymous said...

I wonder what Branson envisioned for a prize winning entry?

Maybe huge floating algae lagoons in the ocean that absorb CO2, then harvest the algae and turn it into biofuel?

Or some kind of majical acoustical device that splits CO2 up and leaves the carbon as a sooty deposit?

I think devices to cut CO2 emissions and conservation and organic farmland land to sequester more carbon should be the winning entry. Pay us Branson.

Put the prize money into starting a "Prairie National Park" (and windfarm)

and back biogas from waste energy generation with the cO2 fed to algae growing solar collectors. That will produce the fuel for your aircraft.

But he needs to fund research on solid oxide fuel cell/turbofan aircraft engines as well.

Anonymous said...

It is a common-sense approach to solving the massive global crisis we face.

That's the problem with it, it makes sense. :)

John said...

I'm not sure how sincere Mr. Branson is. I've been waiting for my entry form for over a month now.

Come on now Branson, put your money where your mouth is.


max said...

A tax on energy or carbon dioxide would indeed increase conservation and encourage renewable sources. It is economics 101.

What it will also do is cause an economic depression. By forcing up the cost of energy, you drive up the cost of doing business for pretty much everyone. Increased costs result in decreased demand, which will snowball. Voila, a depression.

By the way, biofuels will not be part of the solution. Solar heat and wind power will be the first to fill the gap, due to their proximity to economic viability.

Visit my blog for more discussion.

Energy Guru

John said...

I respect your opinion max, but I don't believe that an economic depression is an inevitable consequence of a tax on carbon dioxide emitters. I believe that the vast majority of people, when faced with an electricity rate increase, will respond by conserving electricity. And, while some businesses might respond by raising prices, conservation would be a much better strategy, giving those businesses a competitive edge. A trip to any mall will prove my point. Look at the lighting in any store. Not only do most have many more lights than they need, they're usually energy-wasting incandescent bulbs. Likewise, go to a friends house and think about ways they could conserve. Are they using compact fluorescent bulbs? Do they leave lights on in unoccupied rooms? Could they maintain security and enhance the beauty of their home with more efficient outdoor lighting? These examples just scratch the surface of energy conservation. You'll find many more if you look deeper.

Properly implemented, a tax on polluters need not cause an economic depression, and need not create a hardship for the poor. Stopping pollution that is the result of mining, drilling, and burning fossil fuels will improve the quality of life of everyone. Fossil fuels are limited. We'll have to stop using them someday. Why not start now? Thank you for your comment, but I'll have to respectfully disagree.

Solar John

solutions said...

Anyone know where I can get an application form???


solutions said...

Anybody know where I can get an address or entry form to get into the running for this Challenge?

John said...

You can request an entry form via Virgin Atlantic website:
But don't hold your breath. I've been waiting for my entry form for about 8 weeks.