Feds Fuel FutureGen: Project Gets $1 Billion to Clean Up Dirty Coal Plant

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The FutureGen project, which just got $1 billion from the federal government, hopes to clean up dirty coal power plants with carbon capture and storage technology. A controversial and long-delayed project to scrub greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants and store them elsewhere just got a big boost: a $1 billion boost, to be exact, from the federal stimulus package passed last year.

A consortium plans to use the money to outfit a coal-fired power plant in Illinois with a novel technology to capture and store carbon-dioxide emissions, the U.S. Department of Energy said Thursday. The test is part of the FutureGen project to try out different carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technologies, which some researchers and lawmakers say could reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions that escape into the atmosphere and cause global warming.

FutureGen has suffered many fits and starts over the years. The federal government canceled the project in 2007 because its cost had ballooned way beyond its initial estimate. Environmental and renewable energy groups also have lobbied against public investments in FutureGen, arguing that the project would only encourage the country to continue to rely on fossil fuels to meet its energy needs.

And the current project in Illinois suffered a setback over the past year when the DOE ditched a plan to build a new power plant to test the technology. Instead, the project will now retrofit an existing generation facility. Construction is set to start in spring.

Concentrating Carbon

The consortium, which includes FutureGen Alliance, Ameren Energy Resources, Babcock & Wilcox and Air Liquide Process & Construction, will build a new boiler and install other equipment at the 200-megawatt power plant owned by Ameren in Meredosia, Ill.

The technology will involve using oxygen and carbon dioxide – instead of air – in the combustion process to create a rich stream of carbon dioxide. Concentrating the carbon dioxide makes it easier to separate the emission from other compounds. The process is expected to be able to capture 90% of the carbon-dioxide emissions, or 1 million tons per year, which will then be compressed and shipped to a nearby underground storage facility.

The DOE says the Illinois project will create 900 jobs, plus an additional 1,000 jobs for the project's suppliers.
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