DOE to Support Revamped FutureGen Plans

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on Thursday announced it would award $1 billion in Recovery Act funds to a revamped FutureGen proposal. The so-called “FutureGen 2.0” project contemplates repowering of an existing Ameren 200-MW coal unit in Meredosia, Ill., using oxyfuel technology—not construction of an integrated gasification combined-cycle facility at Mattoon, Ill., as originally envisioned. The new project still calls for use of the original Mattoon geologic storage site to sequester carbon dioxide—however, the city of Mattoon has declined participation in the project.

According to the DOE, the project funding recipients will be the FutureGen Industrial Alliance (the industry consortium organized to carry out the original project), Ameren, Babcock & Wilcox, and oxygen supplier Air Liquide. The DOE expects construction to begin in 2012, with a target completion date of 2015.

Repowering Ameren’s Meredosia Unit 4 with advanced oxycombustion technology will involve a new boiler, air separation unit, CO2 purification, and compression unit, the DOE said. Like the original project, FutureGen 2.0 will “deliver 90% CO2 capture and eliminate most SOx, NOx, mercury, and particulate emissions,” it said.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a press conference announcing the project on Thursday that the entire project is expected to cost some $1.2 billion—$1.13 billion of which will come from federal investment, and $250 million of which will be solicited from private investment.

The senator said that repowering the plant could cost $737 million, but that figure was not certain, as his press secretary told POWERnews, because his office had been “wading through a great deal of information from the Department of Energy.”

The DOE has not yet released a final estimate of how much the total project will cost, but it has indicated that the 175-mile long pipeline from Meredosia to Mattoon will be funded separately.

One reason is that the Mattoon sequestration site may be axed altogether. On Monday, Sen. Durbin sent a letter to Coles Together—the Coles County’s economic development organization—setting an end-of-the-week deadline to say whether they want to host that part of the reworked FutureGen coal project. The organization’s president, Angela Griffin, had been unaware of the DOE’s changed plans until Durbin’s press conference on Thursday.

“Make no mistake, Coles County has the right of first refusal, and I will support Mattoon if that’s the local consensus,” Durbin wrote in the letter to Coles Together. “But, this project which will bring much needed job creation, economic activity, environmental benefits, and more than $1.2 billion in federal funds to the state of Illinois must go forward.”

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Today, however, the city of Mattoon and Coles County said they wouldn’t participate in the FutureGen 2.0 project.

In a statement, Sen. Durbin said he would ask the DOE 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,” he said. “I wish cost overruns, project delays and rapid advances in science in other parts of the country had not necessitated a change in the FutureGen project. But we must face reality.”

Perhaps the only concrete aspect of FutureGen 2.0 concern plans to use oxyfuel technology— burning coal with pure oxygen instead of air (which contains other elements and compounds) to a form of carbon dioxide that’s easier to capture.

According to the DOE, the largest oxycombustion project under way currently is Vattenfall’s 10-MW project, which seeks to capture about 75,000 tons of CO2 annually. When that project was inaugurated in 2008, POWERnews reported that Vattenfall spent two and a half years and €70 million ($100.5 million) building the project alongside the 1,600-MW coal-fired Schwarze Pumpe power plant in north Germany.

Sources: DOE, POWERnews