September 28, 2008

THE REVAMPING OF FutureGen

By Shelley, Suzanne

DOE's announcement in January that it was abandoning its long- standing participation in the showcase FutureGen zeroemissions IGCC facility in Mattoon, IL, delivered a serious blow to the IGCC community. Co-developed by DOE and an international coalition of utilities and coal companies since 2003, the 275-MW facility was set to break ground in 2008. It was going to be the first commercial- scale IGCC facility to capture 90% of its CO2 emissions and sequester them in deep (3,000 ft) saline aquifers at the site, and it was to serve as a "living laboratory," to enable the large-scale demonstration of IGCC technology advances. Now, in lieu of the single-facility approach, DOE will provide federal funding (from $100 million to $600 million) to promote the demonstration of CCS technology at a handful of coal-based power plants (both IGCC and coal-fired facilities) that are already being commercialized by the private sector.

The funding of concurrent, commercial-scale CCS projects is intended to advance CCS more quickly "by redirecting funding to where it is urgently needed - to prove that large carbon capture sources can be integrated with sequestration, at large scale, and in multiple geological settings," says White of GE Energy.

"The overarching objective of all of this is to get some bricks and mortar laid down so we can meaningfully demonstrate the capture and sequestration of CO2 and then work to improve upon the early experiences," notes consultant Sorensen.

However, many have suggested that DOE's proposed funding will not go very far. The Agency's proposed budget of $1.3 billion is "slightly less than what would be needed for two commercialscale CO2 capture and sequestration projects (roughly $1.335 billion)," says Phillips of EPRI. And if costs increase as they have between 2000 and 2007, "one could expect as much as a 66% increase in carbon- capture costs, and then DOE's budget wouldn't even support two such projects."

"Since coal-based power plants are not currently required by law to capture CO2, there may not be enough money in the program to incentivize a commercial plant to take on the R&D challenge of a CCS project and then have to live with the additional O&M costs over time," adds Amick of ConocoPhillips.

Many of the experts interviewed for this article voiced frustration over DOE's cancellation of the dedicated FutureGen Mattoon facility. "Spreading the CCS funding around may sound better, but the way I see it, we're going to lose a minimum of four years (in terms of any potential commercial-scale demonstration of IGCC with CCS)," says consultant Todd, noting that the Mattoon facility was aiming to be online by 2012.

"FutureGen Mattoon was supposed to demonstrate the technologies at a sufficient scale to help the industry get over the 'first-of-a- kind' risks associated with IGCC+CCS," adds McDeed of Mitsubishi. "Until someone can start proving IGCC+CCS at a commercial-scale level, everyone is going to keep saying 'Well, it's never been done before."1

Industry holds its ground

In a statement issued on June 16, the FutureGen Industrial Alliance (Washington, D.C., www.futuregenalliance.org) - a nonprofit, international coalition representing 13 electric utilities and coal companies on six continents - Alliance CEO Michael Mudd said: "Because FutureGen at Mattoon has significant bipartisan support in Congress ... we will continue to work with our champions in the House and Senate to promote legislative action that could keep Mattoon alive until the next President can determine how to move forward."

Meanwhile, in a July 1 letter to the Illinois Clean Coal Review Board, the Illinois Congressional delegation pledged ongoing support for FutureGen Mattoon, writing: "We remain undeterred by the actions of the secretary and other DOE officials ... and we will continue to pursue all avenues, with the goal of bringing FutureGen home to Mattoon."

"It would be a huge mistake to move backward on the progress we have already made," said Paul Thompson, Alliance chairman, in testimony to a Senate panel in May. Adds Mudd: "And we need to retain the full benefits of the more than $50 million that has already been spent advancing this project."

Copyright American Institute of Chemical Engineers Sep 2008

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