X Prize for oil spill cleanup systems narrows in on winner

Among the many complaints that emerged after the BP oil spill last year was that crews trying to collect crude from the surface of the Gulf of Mexico were using technology that hadn’t been updated since the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. But that may not be the case next time.

The X PRIZE Foundation, a non-profit offering $1 million to the team that devises the best oil-capturing system, said today it has narrowed a global field of contestants to 10 teams. Making the cut were five U.S. teams — though none from Houston — two teams from Norway, two from Finland and one from the Netherlands.

The Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE, which was launched in July 2010 following the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf, was “designed to inspire entrepreneurs, engineers, and scientists worldwide to develop innovative, rapidly deployable, and highly efficient methods of capturing crude oil from the ocean surface.”

During a first phase, contestants had to submit their ideas. The 10 finalists now advance to a second phase this summer in which they will demonstrate their technologies at the National Oil Spill Response Research & Renewable Energy Test Facility in New Jersey.

According to organizers, “the team that shows the ability to recover oil on the sea-water surface at the highest oil recovery rate (ORR) above 2,500 gallons per minute with an oil recovery efficiency (ORE) of greater than 70 percent” will win the $1 million prize. Second place will win $300,000, and third place will win $100,000.

Shell Oil Co., a sponsor of the competition, has pledged to help commercialize the winning technology.