A presidentially appointed multi-agency panel has sent a strong signal that clean coal, which is achieved through carbon capture and sequestration, should be a significant part of the nation’s future energy mix.

The Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage, led by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Dept. of Energy, sent a report to President Obama on Aug. 12 outlining steps that should be taken to overcome barriers to widespread commercial deployment of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. Industry officials say the report is a step in the right direction, but many say commercial deployment of CCS technology is still a long way off.

The task force, which Obama established in February, concluded that CCS technology is viable, with “no insurmountable technical, legal, institutional or other barriers” to its use for commercial projects. The report’s authors add, however, that a price on carbon set through climate-change legislation would be the best way to achieve “widespread cost-effective deployment of CCS.”

Don Broeils, a vice president in Fluor Corp.’s power group, says he “couldn’t agree more” with the task force’s conclusion that enacting a climate bill is necessary for commercial-scale CCS to take off. “They’ve got to get climate-change legislation in place so that our clients understand the rules of the game,” he says. But climate change is off the table in Congress, at least for now.

Paul Browning, GE Energy’s vice president for thermal products, power and water, says he was “disappointed” in the task force’s conclusions, describing them as a lost opportunity.

Near-term impact on construction is “pretty slim.”

— Brian Turmail, AGC spokesman

Browning says DOE has made substantial investments in CCS. However, “Much of that focus has favored long-term development over market drivers that would accelerate commercial deployment of advanced technologies,” he says.

GE Energy would like to see incentives for commercial CCS deployment similar to those available for nuclear power and renewable energy, Browning says.

Fluor’s Broeils contends DOE already has stepped up its investment in CCS demonstration projects. He says, “There are incentives to put demonstration projects in place, and of course that leads ultimately to commercial deployment.”

Most notably, DOE Secretary Steven Chu on Aug. 5 announced the award of $1 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to build FutureGen 2.0, a replacement for the original FutureGen project that was abandoned late in the Bush Administration.

The new FutureGen project will retrofit a 200-megawatt coal-fired unit in Meredosia, Ill., with advanced oxy-combustion technology, aiming to capture 90% of CO2 and eliminate most sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and particulate emissions.

DOE says the project will provide performance and emissions data that will help it make loan-guarantee decisions for commercial-scale projects.

Broeils says that four or five CCS demonstration projects are under way across the country. He thinks the task force’s goal of having 10 demonstration projects in operation by 2016 is achievable.

But other observers aren’t sure construction companies will see much impact from CCS plans in the near term. Brian Turmail, a spokesman for the Associated General Contractors of America, says, “At this point, we think chances of this technology becoming viable enough to impact the construction market are pretty slim.”