Future Unclear for FutureGen 2.0 Carbon Capture and Storage Network
WASHINGTON, DC, August 17, 2010 (ENS) – The Obama administration has decided to spend $1 billion in Recovery Act funds to build FutureGen 2.0, a clean coal repowering program and carbon dioxide storage network, in Illinois.
The new plan is a radical change from the original FutureGen project. Announced by the Bush administration in 2003, it was to have been the world’s first near zero emissions, coal burning power plant. But in 2008, the Bush administration called a halt, saying the project would be too costly.
U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin announced the billion dollar award to the FutureGen Alliance, Ameren Energy Resources, Babcock & Wilcox, and Air Liquide Process & Costruction, Inc. on August 5.
Secretary Chu said, “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.”
Chu said the project will help ensure “the U.S. remains competitive in a carbon constrained economy, creating jobs while reducing greenhouse gas pollution.”
Ameren power plant in Meredosia, Illinois (Photo courtesy S.T. Cotter Turbine Services)
The partner recipients are expected to repower Ameren’s 200 megawatt Unit 4 in Meredosia, Illinois with advanced oxy-combustion technology. Oxy-combustion uses oxygen in a special atmosphere to ignite coal.
The project is designed to produce clean energy from coal by capturing and storing approximately 1.3 million tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, CO2, each year, or 90 percent of the plant’s carbon dioxide emissions. It is also expected to eliminate most sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury, and particulate emissions.
The project is designed to create a commercially viable oxy-combustion facility that sends CO2 emissions through a pipeline to a safe location underground.
If the project is accepted and regulatory approvals are received, the next steps would be the negotiation of a cooperative agreement with the Department of Energy, followed by a six-month initial design process and analysis of costs. Construction is expected to begin in 2012 with a targeted completion date in the third quarter 2015.
Ameren estimates that the retrofitting of the plant is expected to create about 500 construction jobs and allow Ameren to recall 50 permanent workers who were laid off last year. The project partners estimate the program will bring 900 jobs to downstate Illinois and another 1,000 jobs to suppliers across the state.
The FutureGen Alliance is an international coalition of coal producers and electric utilities including: Alpha Natural Resources Inc, Anglo American, BHP Billiton, China Huaneng Group, Consol Energy, E.ON US, Peabody Energy, Rio Tinto Energy America Services and Xstrata Coal Pty Limited.
The Alliance has said little about the changed project and reportedly is deciding whether or not to continue backing the project.
The original FutureGen power plant was to have been built in Mattoon, a small town in Coles County, Illinois, but that plan was halted after Mattoon had been selected.
The new project, FutureGen 2.0, assigned the role of regional CO2 storage site to Mattoon. A CO2 pipeline network was planned from Meredosia to Mattoon to transport and store more than one million tons of captured CO2 per year. The Mattoon site also was to have been used to conduct research on site characterization, injection and storage, and monitoring and measurement.
But last week the economic development organization for Coles County, Coles Together, declined participation in the FutureGen 2.0 program, refusing to provide land to store the carbon dioxide.
“Hosting the original FutureGen was something this community embraced with great pride,” Coles Together President Angela Griffin wrote in a letter to Senator Durbin. But FutureGen 2.0 “does not provide for the highest and best use of” the land, she wrote.
Senator Durbin said, “I am disappointed by the decision of community leaders in Mattoon and Coles County to forgo participation in the FutureGen 2.0 project, but as I said at the outset, I will abide by their decision.”
“This week, I will ask the Department of Energy to solicit other Illinois communities to take on the role envisioned for Mattoon. Both my office and the Department of Energy have heard from a number of communities throughout the state expressing their interest,” the senator said.
Durbin said “cost overruns, project delays and rapid advances in science in other parts of the country” made it necessary to change the original FutureGen project.
“I remain convinced that FutureGen 2.0 will create thousands of jobs, generate substantial economic activity, provide important environmental benefits, and infuse more than $1.2 billion in federal funds to the state of Illinois,” Durbin said. “I am committed to moving this project forward and ensuring our state is the leader in clean coal technology.”
On August 12, the Obama administration’s Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage delivered a series of recommendations to the President on overcoming the barriers to the widespread, cost-effective deployment of carbon capture and storage within 10 years.
The report concludes that carbon capture and storage can play an important role in reducing domestic greenhouse gas emissions while preserving the option of using abundant domestic coal, oil and gas, which produce CO2 when burned.
However, the Task Force said that widespread cost-effective deployment of carbon capture and storage will occur only if the technology is commercially available at economically competitive prices and supportive national policy frameworks are in place.
FutureGen 2.0 is designed to demonstrate that carbon capture and storage can be accomplished in a cost-effective manner.
But some environmentalists are concerned that the coal project is far from clean and will instead lock the country into environmentally destructive coal mining, transportation, burning and ash disposal.
And there is another potential conflict of interest casting a shadow over FutureGen 2.0. A top official in the Department of Energy office who oversees the FutureGen project is a past president of Babcock and Wilcox, one of the partner firms.
Critics of the decision to change FutureGen are concerned that James F. Wood, deputy assistant secretary for clean coal in the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy, could benefit from his past leadership at the company. Wood was president of Babcock & Wilcox from 1996-2001.
The Energy Department said in a statement last week that Babcock & Wilcox was chosen for the project because the oxy-combustion process belongs to the company.
More than 310 gigawatts, over half of the electricity generated in the United States today, results from coal combustion. This represents almost 33 percent of the U.S. carbon dioxide emissions resulting from human activities. Current concerns about global climate change are expected to lead to carbon emission controls in the United States in the near future.