XPRIZE + Avatar Innovations Carbon Removal Accelerator: A Canadian Energy Game-Changer

By Caroline Fyvie

Kevin Krausert, CEO & Co-Founder, Avatar Innovations

Kevin Krausert, CEO and Co-Founder of Avatar Innovations and former President and CEO of Beaver Drilling Ltd., is no stranger to Canada’s constantly-evolving energy sector. Last November 2020, Kevin resigned from his role at Beaver Drilling to launch the Calgary-based clean energy accelerator. With local expertise and strong relationships in the energy sector, Avatar Innovations serves as a way to empower the energy industry as major innovators and contributors to the global energy transition.

Since launching, there have been many exciting announcements, including one this past summer that Avatar and the University of Calgary are partnering with XPRIZE to participate in a large-scale carbon removal competition. The stakes are high, the Carbon Removal XPRIZE is funded by the Musk Foundation with a prize value of $100M. The competition will last for four years, concluding on Earth Day 2025, and is open to teams from around the world.

The Avatar accelerator will provide 10 select groups of global, early-stage carbon removal companies with industry access and industrial scale required to meet the challenge. It also offers access to Calgary’s world-leading carbon technology ecosystem and is supported by energy companies including Suncor, Enbridge, Shell Canada, Imperial Oil, and Cenovus Energy.

We spoke with Kevin to learn more about Avatar Innovation’s XPRIZE partnership and what’s next for the startup.

Caroline Fyvie: When did you first become interested in carbon removal?

Kevin Krausert: I’ve been looking at this technology for a decade, and the technology arena has advanced a lot in the last several years. Ten years ago, Carbon Engineering, which is now the world’s largest carbon removal company, sort of started at the University of Calgary. I had the privilege of working with the founder when I was doing my MBA. I thought there are a lot of emissions that are going to be very, very difficult to decarbonize, and carbon removal, pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere, presents one of the solutions to the emissions challenge.

Caroline: Through your partnership with XPRIZE and the University of Calgary, how are you helping energy professionals and emerging leaders?

Kevin: Through Avatar, we have hundreds of emerging professionals from 67 oil and gas companies, working through the solutions and the technologies that we have. Carbon removal is a really exciting technology area. We’ve admitted 10 companies from five different countries around the world into Avatar’s XPRIZE partnership.

We’ll be bringing some world-leading technologies and companies here to Calgary, Alberta, and Canada, to really build the skillsets and the competencies inside the industry around pretty exciting technology.

Caroline: Can anyone take part in the XPRIZE competition?

Kevin: Yes, the XPRIZE competition is open to anybody who thinks they have a compelling carbon removal solution. One of the criteria is to be able to have a realistic pathway towards gigaton scale carbon removal. To give you an idea around how much CO2 that is on an annual basis, we’re talking about basically the annual emissions of China.

To meet those conditions is going to require industrial scale and industrial partnerships like never before. So, what we did in our partnership with XPRIZE is basically take some of these emerging technology companies and match them with oil and gas companies. Oil and gas companies are highly motivated players on investing and commercializing these technologies, they understand industrial scale like few others, and they understand subsurface and geosphere technology really well.

Caroline: What are you most looking forward to from this partnership?

Kevin: First, an opportunity to work on an exciting new technology area and bring it to the energy sector, and second, to be able to demonstrate that the energy sector is a meaningful and powerful partner in the planet’s climate ambitions. Lastly, an opportunity to work on an international scale, showcasing the talent, resources, and horsepower that Calgary’s energy sector has.

Caroline: Will there be opportunities for people employed in the drilling and well servicing sector to branch into these new technology areas as they are integrated?

Kevin: Yes, for sure. Carbon capture is going to be the single largest capital spend of the Canadian oil and gas industry in the next decade. And that is going to lead to drilling to store all this carbon. Without giving some of the technologies away that we’re working on, the subsurface is a critical aspect of carbon sequestration technologies. Once we can pull this CO2 out of the atmosphere, where are we going to put it? I think there’s an opportunity for the drilling industry and the service industry to be a part of these types of technologies as they move forward.

Caroline: Can people still register for the program?

Kevin: For this particular Avatar program with XPRIZE, the registration is now closed. We will be announcing the next Avatar program likely in December, and then there will be an intake at that point.

Caroline: Do you have any advice for young people interested in oil and gas/carbon technology?

Kevin: I would say keep your head up, keep working hard, keep moving forward, and that there is a lot of opportunity in our industry. The oil and gas industry is uniquely positioned to deliver the climate ambitions and so stay focused and stay safe.

Caroline: Is there anything else that you’re working on that you would like to share?

Kevin: Stay tuned for the next intake of the Avatar program, we’ve got some really exciting stuff in the hopper.

Learn more about the XPRIZE $100M prize for carbon removal here.

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