Register for an account

X

Enter your name and email address below.

Your email address is used to log in and will not be shared or sold. Read our privacy policy.

X

Website access code

Enter your access code into the form field below.

If you are a Zinio, Nook, Kindle, Apple, or Google Play subscriber, you can enter your website access code to gain subscriber access. Your website access code is located in the upper right corner of the Table of Contents page of your digital edition.

Technology

FutureGen, the Ambitious Clean Coal Project, Gets Overhauled Again

80beatsBy Andrew MosemanAugust 9, 2010 7:54 PM
Futuregen.jpg

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Last year, when DISCOVER covered the FutureGen carbon capture and storage (CCS) project as one of our top 100 stories of 2009, we noted the nickname some opponents had bestowed on the big-budget experiment: "NeverGen." That moniker feels even more appropriate now, as the Department of Energy has changed plans and now says it will overhaul the FutureGen idea and build it in a totally different way. The FutureGen scheme called for building a new CCS demonstration coal plant in Mattoon, Illinois, about 180 miles south of Chicago. The Bush Administration quashed FutureGen because of its hefty budget, but President Obama revived the project with $1 billion in stimulus funding. Now, though, the government says it wants to retrofit an existing power plant across the state in a town called Meredosia rather than build a new one from scratch.

In the new design, the plant would be fed pure oxygen and burn coal, and the exhaust gas would consist of almost pure carbon dioxide. That carbon dioxide would then be piped 170 miles east to Mattoon and injected underground, possibly along with contributions from an ethanol plant in Decatur, Ill., and other industrial plants along the way [The New York Times].

Under the original plan, the high-tech new plant in Mattoon would have turned coal into a clean-burning gas and would then have filtered out the Co2. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois tried to defend this change of course by arguing that bureaucratic and budgetary headaches delayed FutureGen so long that building that kind of plant isn't worthwhile—gasification

isn't the leading edge technology it was several years ago.

"The heart of this is a research effort," Durbin said. "It really made no sense to build a power plant to prove what's already being tested in three or four other commercial facilities" [AP].

The oxygen-burning plant would be more experimental—if it's ever built. Some trials are going on in Europe, but the New York Times reports

that the largest such plant that presently exists creates about 10 megawatts. The Meredosia plant, which is an old oil-burning operation owned by St. Louis energy company Ameren

, would create 200 MW if successfully overhauled. Construction on the whole project is scheduled to start in June 2011, including the pipeline to Mattoon. (Because carbon sequestration requires the right kind of geology

, you can't just stash CO2 underneath wherever your plant might be. So now that the government has moved the "FutureGen 2.0" across the state, they're stuck piping the CO2 across Illinois to the location that's been approved.) However, with the glacial pace that has plagued FutureGen so far, there's no reason to think it will be the first of its kind by the time it's built.

By the time the scheme starts operating, it may not be the largest oxyfuel demonstration plant in the world. Swedish energy company Vattenfall plans to trial a 250MW oxyfuel boiler at Jänschwalde in Germany, assuming that the requisite carbon capture regulations are passed by the German government. It’s worth remembering that today’s commercial-scale coal power plants produce typically anything from 1 to 2 GW, so these 200-300MW efforts are still mid-size research demonstrations [Nature].

Related Content: DISCOVER: Experimental Coal Plant Stashes CO2 Underground

DISCOVER: The Key To Safe And Effective Carbon Sequestration

80beats: Obama & Chu Push Ahead with Clean Coal Projects Despite the Cost

80beats: Much-Ballyhooed Carbon Capture Plant Hasn't Stored a Thing

80beats: Obama Announces $2 Billion for 2 Ambitious Solar Power Schemes

Image: Wikimedia Commons

3 Free Articles Left

Want it all? Get unlimited access when you subscribe.

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In

Want unlimited access?

Subscribe today and save 70%

Subscribe

Already a subscriber? Register or Log In