The Carbon Conundrum

Carbon-based emissions, such as carbon dioxide (CO2), have drawn massive amounts of negative attention. Many countries, provinces, states and corporations have carbon emission limits in place. There are concentrated efforts on several fronts to help reduce carbon footprints. But what if carbon could be transformed from a liability to an asset? What if an economy arises where carbon-based products become sought after, valuable and integral to the fabric of our lives? This is the vision of the $35 million (Canadian) CCEMC Grand Challenge: to identify and support development of technologies that convert CO2 emissions into carbon-based products – promoting new businesses and new markets.

Topics selected for grand challenges are generally sweeping in scope, aspirational, and provide social good. A very early example is the Longitude Prize. In 1714, the British government offered a cash reward of up to £20,000 to develop a method of accurately determining a ship’s longitude when not within sight of land. This was important for ships to be able to accurately navigate across large distances of open water. Nearly £15,000 was awarded to John Harrison for his work developing an accurate chronometer. By comparing local time against home port time, a ship could reliably determine its longitude.

Grand challenges can accelerate the development of transformative technologies. They can create a global call to action. They can provide the forum and structure that allow diverse groups to collaborate effectively to create breakthroughs. A more recent example is the Ansari X Prize. Twenty-six teams from around the world competed to be the first to launch a private, manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks.

The Scaled Composites’ Tier One won the $10M prize in late 2004. But it has been estimated that more than $100 million was invested by the vying teams to develop new supporting technologies. 

The Climate Change and Emissions Management (CCEMC) Corp. is an Alberta-based not-for-profit corporation that operates independently of government. The CCEMC is dedicated to the discovery, development and deployment of clean technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and to assist Alberta in adapting to climate change. It provides ongoing, dedicated funds to support transformative technologies that will reduce GHGs.

 Although the CCEMC funds numerous projects relating to reduction of GHGs, this challenge differs because the desired end result isn’t a single, specific technology. Success will be the development and commercialization of a diverse array of products, processes, and supporting technologies that contribute to the paradigm shift where CO2 becomes a desirable and valuable starting material.

The multi-stage structure of CCEMC’s Grand Challenge is designed to encourage the advance of such an array of technologies, thus kick-starting the new carbon-based economy. The challenge spans a period of 5 years. During the current first round, up to 20 participants will be awarded seed grants of $500,000 (Canadian) to develop or prove proposed technologies. In addition to receiving seed grants, Round 1 winners will also have access to a support network of business and technology advisors, venture capitalists, and other resources.

Anyone with a bright idea is welcome to submit a short (one to three pages), non-confidential proposal at The deadline to submit proposals is July 31, 2013. 

The best and most innovative proposals will be identified, and those selected will be invited to submit a complete and comprehensive proposal. The CCEMC and an external Judging Panel will choose the 20 winners from these invited proposals. Winners will have two years to develop or prove out their technologies.

In subsequent rounds, Round 1 winners and any other groups will be able to submit proposals to win one of five $3 million development grants. Eventually, one of those five winners will advance to win the $10 million (Canadian) commercialization grant. But the intent is that technologies which do not advance will have benefited from the funding and the mentoring from the support network to be able to leverage their exposure and experience to gain funding and/or opportunities from other organizations besides the CCEMC.

Indeed, part of the motivation for many of the participants in CCEMC’s support network is the opportunity to “get in on the ground floor” for some of the most innovative and transformative technologies being developed. By the end of the five-year grand challenge, the CCEMC hopes there will be multiple products and processes being commercialized – in addition to the technology that wins the CCEMC commercialization grant.

The CCEMC Grand Challenge is a prime example of a quest that is aspirational and achievable. It is based on the premise that bright ideas exist around the world and together we have the ability to pool our talent to create a cradle-to-cradle cycle for carbon that will strengthen our economy and reduce carbon footprints. EMI­

Eloise Young, Ph.D., is program manager for NineSigma, an innovation partner to organizations worldwide. For more information, visit, or contact Young at [email protected].

Check out our latest Edition!


Contact Us

Energy and Mining International

150 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 900
Chicago, IL 60601
312.676.1100  312.676.1101

Click here for a full list of contacts.

Latest Edition

Spread The Love

Back To Top