In a saltwater tank on the coast of Sandy Hook Bay in New Jersey, a contest has been under way over the past 12 weeks born out of the anger, frustration, and helplessness so many people shared amid last year's BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
(Related: "Winners Announced in Oil Spill Cleanup X CHALLENGE")
Ten finalist teams, chosen from more than 300 applicants, are competing in a $1.4 million Wendy Schmidt Oil Cleanup X CHALLENGE to prove there is a better way to clean up oil spills than the dated and ineffective technology deployed to capture the crude that gushed from the Macondo well for 87 days. Beginning in July and continuing through last week, five U.S. competitors, two each from Norway and Finland, and one from the Netherlands took turns deploying pumps, skimmers, and booms in new shapes, sizes, and configurations.
Although just across the water from Lower Manhattan, the contest has been out of public view, cloistered on the U.S. government's one-of-a-kind Ohmsett marine spill test facility on a high-security military base, Naval Weapons Station Earle in Leonardo, New Jersey (map). But next week, the winners and the results will be announced.
The top teams will take home a $1 million first-place, a $300,000 second-place, and a $100,000 third-place prize, sponsored by X PRIZE donor Wendy Schmidt, president of the energy and natural resources-focused Schmidt Family Foundation and wife of Google chief executive Eric Schmidt. But those involved in the contest hope to produce more than victors. They want ready-to-be-commercialized systems to emerge from the competition, with a goal of cleaning up oil spills at least three times better than technology on the market today.
"This competition provides a very quick forum for rapid sea change in the degree to which these systems can perform," said Cristin Dorgelo, vice president of prize operations for the X PRIZE. "We acknowledge there has been innovation moving forward in the industry, but certainly greater change was possible more quickly, and we're hoping this competition becomes a platform for that, and we've already seen that demonstrated in our tests."
This story is part of a special series that explores energy issues. For more, visit The Great Energy Challenge.