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Small Missoula company celebrating big win

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XPRIZE winner Mike DeGrandpre of Sunburst Sensors (MTN News photo) XPRIZE winner Mike DeGrandpre of Sunburst Sensors (MTN News photo)
MISSOULA -

A small team led by a University of Montana chemistry professor has prevailed over 23 other teams from all over the world that were each vying for the XPRIZE for ocean health.

Sunburst Sensors is now celebrating - and making plans for spending the money. Reporter Eric Clements found out how the winners are working toward a cleaner future.

It is a very good place to be for Sunburst Sensors. The small Missoula business is working toward developing technology to more accurately measure carbon dioxide levels in the ocean.

Only five XPRIZE contests have been held since 1996, with each driving innovation for the betterment of humankind through competition.

Although the win is sure to draw attention to Sunburst Solutions, company founder - and self-described inland oceanographer - Mike DeGrandpre, says the prize isn't the point.

DeGrandpre says winning the XPRIZE is about more than just an increased research budget; he says the award will help draw attention to an important, and often overlooked problem.

"This is much bigger than the XPRIZE. By far the most important thing is the ocean acidification and bringing attention to that critical problem."

DeGrandpre says increased fossil fuel emissions are largely to blame for ocean acidification as carbon dioxide released from cars and factories gets pushed into the environment.

"And that's got to go somewhere.  A lot of it's staying in the atmosphere, that's causing global warming, but then a lot of it's going into the ocean.  It forms carbonic acid and drops the ocean's pH," he explained.

The lower the water's pH, the more acidic it becomes, which is harmful to aquatic life. Sunburst's new tools will better equip researchers attempting to balance the ocean's natural pH. But DeGrandpre says it doesn't take a scientist to help the cause.

"We can do something about it.  We can individually conserve energy.  We can turn off the lights, we can use solar panels, we can turn off our car when it's idling outside of a store," he said. "If we all do this together, it will make a difference."

RELATED: UM team picks up big XPrize win

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