The Conversation: X Prize Takes on Oil Spill

Billionaire Wendy Schmidt prods inventors to develop oil-cleanup technology.

ByABC News
July 29, 2010, 9:30 AM

July 29, 2010— -- If BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has shown anything, it is that more advanced technology is needed to clean up and control oil spills.

In responding to the disaster that began 101 days ago, cleanup crews have been mostly limited to techniques that have been used in spills for decades; booms, skimming, and shoveling up oil that reached shorelines.

While thousands of people came forward to share their ideas with BP on the cleanup, a new contest calls on the ingenuity of inventors to tackle one of the big problems of our time, backed by a big incentive, $1.4 million in prize money.

Wendy Schmidt, the president of the Schmidt Family Foundation and wife of Google's billionaire CEO Eric Schmidt, is announcing today her support for the Oil Cleanup X Challenge.

"What we have today is a problem that is a legacy of the energy infrastructure of a century ago," Schmidt told ABC News. "This is what we've inherited, and we have a responsibility to clean up the mess that we're making."

The challenge, administered by the X Prize foundation, is similar to other contests it has sponsored to develop spacecraft and build fuel-efficient vehicles, among other endeavors.

The lastest challenge begins Aug. 1 and will be open for one year. The prize "will be awarded to the team that demonstrates the ability to recover oil on the sea surface at the highest oil recovery rate and the highest recovery efficiency," according to the challenge website.

Today on the Conversation, Schmidt and X Prize chairman Peter Diamandis spoke with ABC's David Muir about the new challenge and their goals.

"Hopefully, this is a mechanism, when there are big problems, we can launch this type of competition," Diamandis said. "It provides a structure for innovators and engineers to come with ideas, test them and take them to market."

We hope you'll watch today's Conversation.

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