DOE awards $1 billion to revamped FutureGen clean coal project

The U.S. Department of Energy on Thursday awarded $1 billion for a revamped version of the FutureGen clean coal power project in Illinois.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor on

The U.S. Department of Energy on Thursday awarded $1 billion for a revamped version of the FutureGen clean coal power project in Illinois, a carbon capture and sequestration scheme in Illinois that has languished in recent years.

The project, first conceived under the Bush administration, originally consisted of an experimental coal-fired power plant near Mattoon, Ill. whose carbon dioxide emissions would be stored underground.

But the Energy Department's latest announcement has altered the project's course, instead specifying the retrofitting of an existing, 200-megawatt plant in Meredosia, Ill. that belongs to Ameren Energy. In the new scheme, carbon dioxide will be piped from the plant to Mattoon for storage along 175-miles of new pipeline.

"Today's announcement will help ensure the U.S. remains competitive in a carbon constrained economy, creating jobs while reducing greenhouse gas pollution," U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

"This investment in the world's first, commercial-scale, oxy-combustion power plant will help to open up the over $300 billion market for coal unit repowering and position the country as a leader in an important part of the global clean energy economy."

The entire project is expected to cost $1.2 billion, with construction scheduled to begin this spring.

Fittingly, no completion date has been set.

At the center of the rethought project is a process known as oxy-combustion, in which pure oxygen, rather than air, is used to burn fuels such as coal.

The DOE explains the appeal:

Oxy-combustion burns coal with a mixture of oxygen and CO2 instead of air to produce a concentrated CO2 stream for safe, permanent, storage. In addition, oxy-combustion technology creates a near-zero emissions plant by eliminating almost all of the mercury, SOx, NOx, and particulate pollutants from plant emissions. The Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory studies have identified oxy-combustion as potentially the least cost approach to clean-up existing coal-fired facilities and capture CO2 for geologic storage.

The FutureGen project was originally intended to test a process called Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, but other projects are already testing it, leaving the original FutureGen vision -- soon running way over budget -- without a reason to exist. (The Bush administration pulled the project's funding.)

FutureGen 2.0 will provide performance and emissions data for future commercial guarantees, as well as establish operating and maintenance experience for future large-scale commercial projects.

The ultimate goal? Advance carbon capture and storage methods to make the United States a world leader in the technology, the DOE says.

The $1 billion in stimulus funds will go to the FutureGen Alliance, Ameren Energy Resources, Babcock & Wilcox, and Air Liquide Process & Construction.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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