International Carbon XPRIZE inspires EMS students to design products made from CO₂

International Carbon XPRIZE inspires EMS students to design products made from CO₂
Carbon XPrize EMS

Editor’s note: Photos are from early 2020, before the pandemic.

Would you wear a watch and slippers made from carbon dioxide emissions? Or brush your teeth using toothpaste made from CO₂? Before the pandemic, students at Evergreen Middle School were learning about real products that capture and store carbon dioxide that would otherwise go into the atmosphere. They recently had a chance to revisit their work during a Microsoft Teams meeting with some special guests. 

In February 2020, teacher Kerry McNaughton asked the seventh-grade Quest students to come up with solutions to help green sea turtles. The sex of sea turtles is determined by the temperature of their eggs before they hatch. In recent years, about 98% of green sea turtles have been born female because of a warming climate. 

One strategy the students looked at was storing carbon emissions. Recent technology allows for CO₂ storage in concrete. The production of cement is a major source of carbon emissions. An organization working to accelerate the development of similar technologies is the XPRIZE Foundation. The NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE aims to inspire development of new and emerging CO₂ conversion technologies to help solve climate change. 

Using the contest as a model, students brainstormed and wrote press releases for hypothetical products. Their ideas included using carbon to make products such as cardboard, toilet paper, pencils, wood, batteries, cars, eye glasses, paper, clothing, sweetener, milk and hand sanitizer. 

Students had a chance to talk to their influencers directly during a Microsoft Teams meeting in December. The students – now eighth graders – asked Carbon XPRIZE Executive Director Marcius Extavour and other prize judges questions about the XPRIZE and about the 2020 finalists. There were no carbon cars. But the ten finalists do make hand sanitizer, fuel (methanol and ethylene), concrete, bioplastics and other technologies, which can be used to convert carbon into useful consumer products.

Before schools closed in March, the class planned to brainstorm ideas to reduce idling in the school parking lot. During one experiment, they timed how long it takes to fill a large garbage bag with car exhaust (15 seconds). They measured the carbon dioxide in the emissions. Their plans were put on hold because of the pandemic, but students were re-energized by the meeting with XPRIZE judges. 

Extavour asked students what ideas they had to encourage consumers to buy carbon-made products. Several students pointed out that they are more expensive than their traditional counterparts. They suggested providing financial incentives to consumers.

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