Sunday, June 14, 2009

The FutureGen Coal Gasification Project is Back!


Friday (12 June 2009) Obama's Department of Energy funded the FutureGen project, albeit a less ambitious version. One billion dollars from the economic stimulus bill will supplement the private funding. The new plant will gasify coal, separate the carbon dioxide, and pump that into a deep saline water layer under the plant. I went through coal gasification in January -- see this post for the whole story and a diagram.

The original plant was going to put 90-100% of the carbon dioxide underground, but the new version will sequester 60%. They justify the scope-change by saying that this is the first plant of its kind, and they need to learn how to do it. In the past, people said the gas separation after the coal gasification was going to be trivially easy, but it seems that was an exaggeration.

After Bush's DOE defunded the project due to expense, the FutureGen Alliance did not disband. It is an alliance of eleven companies seven American, one Chinese, one British, and two Australian. Illinois politicians revived the project because it will be sited in Mattoon Illinois near Springfield.

Coal gasification is one of the most practical of the alternative energy technologies. Carbon sequestration might become important, but as mentioned below in my post on methane, I am overwhelmed by the magnitude of the greenhouse gas problem. The quantities are just so large.

This project is important because someone needs to build the first plant before any group of commercial investors will do so. This group will work through the problems and give people something to copy.


There are currently four commercial-scale IGCC plants operating in the US today, and they were all developed with government funding. I got this table from the State of Nevada air pollution site. I can't find the authors. The Polk and Wabash plants are models for the FutureGen plant.

If we are going to have an industrial future when petroleum runs out, we are going to need coal. Coal gasification represents a smart technology to do that without the dirty coal soot that plagued cities during the industrial revolution.

More: I'm glad to see this funded, but this by the time this money is spent, the recession will be over. This is a mis-use of stimulus funds which were supposed to be for 2009 benefit.