It remains to be seen whether the recent announcement that the DOE was pulling back or refiguring its support of the FutureGen project is a good move in terms of supporting smart solutions to our power generation problems associated with coal fired power plant CO2 emissions. If built, the FutureGen plant will integrate advanced technologies for coal gasification, electricity production, emissions control, CO2 capture and permanent storage, and hydrogen production at a commercial scale. As stated on their website, "during normal operations, emissions will be as low as, if not lower than virtually any other coal plant in the world."
When the budget for FutureGen approached $1.8 billion, the government "revamped" its support and commitment. As reported by Andrew Revkin in the New York Times this past Sunday, "The Energy Department said it would pay for the gas capturing technology, but industry would have to build and pay for the commercial plants that use the technology. Plans for the experimental plant were scratched."
Although he offers no specifics, Mr. Revkin's article makes one wonder how many problems there were with the technologies being incorporated into the FutureGen project. "But several experts said the plan still lacked the scope to test various gas-separation technologies, coal varieties, and - most important - whether varied geologic conditions can permanently hold carbon dioxide." He goes on to say, " Many experts say that neither the original plan nor the revamped effort, .... are sufficient to set the stage for pumping tens of billions of tons of compressed carbon dioxide into the earth or sea bed starting 10 or 20 years from now."
One does have to wonder if we truly know how to properly sequester the CO2 in the subsurface. For years we have pushed hydrocarbons with CO2, but not always with the concern that the CO2 stays where it is placed.
The DOE seems to be providing continued support to technology development, while passing the torch onto the power generators to build and run these plants. Maybe this is a compromise that will work?