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Volume 87 Issue 11 | p. 6 | News of The Week
Issue Date: March 16, 2009

New Life For Coal Gasification

Energy secretary reconsiders Bush-era decision to kill clean-coal project
Department: Government & Policy | Collection: Sustainability
FutureGen would be similar to DOE's 250-MW coal gasification project in Florida (shown) but would capture CO2 and inject it underground.
Credit: Tampa Electric
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FutureGen would be similar to DOE's 250-MW coal gasification project in Florida (shown) but would capture CO2 and inject it underground.
Credit: Tampa Electric

ENERGY SECRETARY Steven Chu is reviewing a Bush Administration decision to cancel a large-scale, clean-coal gasification project because of anticipated cost overruns, an aide told C&EN last week.

FutureGen was to have been a carbon capture and sequestration project that would generate electricity by burning synthetic fuel formulated at a coal gasification pilot plant (C&EN, April 2, 2007, page 48). It would have pulled out 90% of the carbon dioxide generated and injected the greenhouse gas underground near the plant.

The Department of Energy has built two similar "integrated gasification combined cycle" (IGCC) projects, but this one would have been the largest at 275 MW and the only one to capture and inject CO2. It had been set for construction in Mattoon, Ill., when it was canceled and the money was set aside for a larger number of smaller but similar projects.

"Chu believes FutureGen has merit, and he is personally reviewing it to see if there are modifications that can be made to improve it and lower its costs," says Stephanie Mueller, Chu's press secretary. Chu will also meet soon with an industry consortium that would have built the plant, she adds.

Many in Congress applauded the possible reversal, particularly those from the Illinois delegation, which had strongly objected to the cancellation.

Also last week, FutureGen was the subject of a March 11 hearing before the House Science & Technology Subcommittee on Energy & Environment. The subcommittee took up two reports that are highly critical of the Bush Administration's decision.

A Government Accountability Office report (GAO-09-465T) charges that the DOE cost overrun projections used to justify FutureGen's cancellation were wrong. GAO's Mark Gaffigan told the subcommittee that rather than being $900 million over budget, FutureGen's cost overrun would be $300 million over budget. Originally, the project was expected to cost around $950 million, three-quarters of which was to be paid by taxpayers.

Gaffigan stressed the project's importance to continued use of coal and noted that some $3.4 billion in the Obama Administration's stimulus package is set aside for fossil energy R&D, which could have significant influence on Chu's FutureGen decision.

A second report by subcommittee staff blasted Bush's DOE, charging it had manipulated documents to justify its decision to kill FutureGen.

 
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