Three people working in a lab.

Scott Hamilton-Brehm, a faculty researcher, works with Tia Zimmerman, a master’s student in micro and biochemical molecular biology, center, Bethany Egge, a senior in microbiology, on a new technology aimed at reducing carbon in the atmosphere. The team’s work earned an XPRIZE last year and will be featured in a video release on YouTube on Thursday. (Photo provided)

July 24, 2023

SIU’s XPRIZE team and their carbon capture efforts featured in a film

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. – The folks from XPRIZE Carbon Removal are putting Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s ideas for capturing carbon in the movies, and the team’s debut hits YouTube this week.

In fall of 2021, SIU’s Carbon Down Under student team was selected as one of just 23 teams worldwide to receive funds in the XPRIZE Carbon Removal student competition, financed by the Musk Foundation, to find working technologies to fight climate change and rebalance Earth’s climate cycle. 

XPRIZE recently chose 10 of those competing teams, including Carbon Down Under, for short, independent films to highlight the new concepts in carbon sequestration technology. The video of the SIU team will be posted Thursday (July 27) on the XPRIZE YouTube channel

The SIU team, now made up of Tia Zimmerman, a master’s student in micro and biochemical molecular biology, Bethany Egge, a senior in microbiology, and faculty researchers Scott Hamilton-Brehm and Ken Anderson, is working on technologies that would sequester carbon below ground. 

The proposed system would liquefy everyday waste biomass – everything from grass clippings to scrap vegetables and cardboard – for injection into the subsurface. Once underground, hungry microbes would consume the carbon-rich liquid and sequester it, preventing it from re-entering the atmosphere where it could contribute to climate change.

On Wednesday, the day before the movie is posted, the Carbon Down Under team, along with representatives from its sponsoring company, Thermaquatica, will participate in a question-and-answer session about the movie. The session is scheduled for noon on the XPRIZE Discord, a social platform that allows users to communicate by voice or text while sharing media and files in private chats or as part of a community.

Media advisory

Reporters, photographers and news crews are welcome to interview members of SIU’s Carbon Down Under student team this week. Contact Tim Crosby, public information coordinator, 618-534-3045 or

Anderson is the founder of Thermaquatica, an SIU spin-off company started about 12 years ago. Thermaquatica is distributing and accounting for the prize money for the Carbon Down Under team — about $250,000 so far — used for the team’s research. 

Hamilton-Brehm said he and his teammates have not yet previewed the movie, and they are looking forward to seeing its communication value.

“The video will explain why our solution to climate change is viable and ready to be deployed now,” he said. “Carbon removal and sequestration is a complicated topic. One of our challenges is that we are a very small team, and we need capital investors to become bigger so we can build a demonstration plant so that the engineers can ‘kick the tires,’ showing the world this is a process that works.”

Hamilton-Brehm said one goal of the team is to raise enough money to build an industrial scale system aimed at making SIU carbon-negative, and to do it within 10 years. 

“If we can do this in time, we could be the first university in the whole world to accurately and quantitatively state we are carbon negative,” he said. 

Teams from around the world can register to compete in XPRIZE Carbon Removal through early September 2023 and will compete into 2025 to identify groundbreaking carbon removal solutions.