Citing soaring cost and advances in electricity-generation technology in recent years, DOE on Jan. 30 withdrew its support from the FutureGen Alliance. The nonprofit public-private partnership was launched in 2005 in response to Bush’s February 2003 call for a program to demonstrate the world’s first near-zero-emissions coal-fired powerplant.
In 2003, DOE officials described FutureGen as a $950-million initiative to create a coal-based powerplant focused on demonstrating integrated gasification, combined-cycle (IGCC) technology that would produce hydrogen and electricity while providing for capture and storage of carbon dioxide. Seven coal producers and utilities formed the alliance to develop it in 2005 (ENR 10/3/05 p. 22). Having chosen the Mattoon site for the plant, the alliance chafed while DOE withheld the Record of Decision that would allow construction to proceed. Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman’s January announcement to jettison the project provoked angry reactions from Illinois political leaders and consternation from other stakeholders.
"Carbon capture and storage is a linchpin technology and industry is pulling for developing it. "
DOE saw FutureGen as a 275-MW research and development testing laboratory for IGCC, hydrogen production and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies because there were few IGCC projects in development. “Now, more than 33 IGCC projects have begun the permitting process,” says Clay Sell, deputy energy secretary.
DOE first became aware that the cost estimate had risen to $1.8 billion last March when it signed a cooperative agreement with the alliance for the project. Under the agreement, DOE would pay 74% of the project’s cost and the alliance 26%. The consensus was that “costs would only increase,” says Sell.
To replace FutureGen’s three-part focus on coal gasification, hydrogen production and CCS, DOE will concentrate on research, development and demonstration of CCS, leaving the demonstration of gasification technology to power developers.
On Jan. 30, DOE issued a Request for Information seeking industry input by March 3 on the costs and feasibility associated with building “clean coal” facilities that achieve FutureGen’s intended goals. By the end of the year this should lead to a competitive solicitation to provide federal funding to equip clean-coal plants of at least 300 MW with CCS technology, says Sell.
CCS is “a linchpin technology for the future,” and DOE is responding to the industry’s pull in focusing on it, says Revis James, director of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Electric Power Research Institute’s Technology Assessment Center. The industry is saying, “We want to get to a new model” rather than develop a full suite of integrated technologies, he says. “A lot of attention is being put on it.”
early a week after the Dept. of Energy pulled out of an international program to develop a coal-fired powerplant with near-zero emissions, stakeholders continued to sort out their options. Members of the FutureGen Alliance were meeting Feb. 5-6 in Mattoon, Ill., the site they chose in December for the plant, to determine how to proceed while the state’s congressional delegation called on President Bush to move the program forward.