FutureGen moves ahead

FUTUREGEN, the first near-zero emissions coal-fired power generation facility revived by the Obama administration last month, can now move forward after being given the go-ahead by the US Department of Energy.
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An artist's impression of the Futuregen Power Plant, courtesy the Futuregen Alliance.

Donna Schmidt

The go-ahead was given after the department’s issuance of the National Environmental Policy Act Record of Decision on the landmark billion-dollar project.

"The carbon capture and sequestration technologies planned for this flagship facility are vitally important to America and the world," US Energy Secretary Steven Chu said.

"This step forward demonstrates the administration’s commitment to developing clean energy technologies, creating jobs, and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases."

Among the site-specific project tasks that can now commence at the 444-acre Mattoon, Illinois site and continue over the next eight to 10 months are: preliminary design completion, a refining of FutureGen’s cost estimate, the development of a funding plan, an expansion of the project’s sponsorship group and the performance of more subsurface characterisation if necessary.

“Following these activities, which will be completed in early 2010, the department and the alliance will decide whether to continue the project through construction and operation,” the agency said, but noted that both parties agree that moving forward with FutureGen is the preferred outcome.

At a total estimated cost of $US2.4 billion, the DoE’s contribution will be $1.073 billion - $1 billion of which will come from Recovery Act funds.

The FutureGen Alliance of coal producers and power utilities will foot an anticipated $400-600 million of the bill, based on a $20-30 million goal from each of the group’s 20 member companies.

DoE said it would support the alliance in efforts to raise additional non-federal funds, including options, while there were other plans to hold a residual interests auction in the late fall once the plant’s research is complete. Funding, it noted, will be phased out and released as NEPA reviews are completed and conditions met.

"This important step forward for FutureGen reflects [the Obama] administration's commitment to rapidly developing carbon capture and sequestration technology as part of a comprehensive plan to create jobs, develop clean energy and reduce climate change pollution," Chu said in June when the project was re-energised.

"The FutureGen project holds great promise as a flagship facility to demonstrate carbon capture and storage at commercial scale. Developing this technology is critically important for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the US, and around the world.”

The facility will use an integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) and capture and store 90% of carbon dioxide emissions expelled, sequestering it in the geological sandstone reservoirs of Mt Simon more than one mile underground.

Construction is anticipated to begin in 2010 and be fully operational by 2013, bringing an estimated 1300 construction jobs and 150 permanent jobs.

It will produce 275 megawatts of electric power, or enough electricity to power 150,000 homes, as well as hydrogen for fuel-cell technology.

Members of the FutureGen Alliance include Anglo American, BHP Billiton, the China Huaneng Group, Consol Energy, E ON US, Foundation Coal, Luminant, Rio Tinto Energy America, Peabody Energy, PPL Corporation, and Xstrata Coal. American Electric Power and Southern Company pulled out of the project in late June.