US flagship clean coal project morphs into repowering programme with $1 billion in economic stimulus funds

America’s flagship clean coal project, FutureGen, will be revamped through $1 billion in economic stimulus funds pledged by the US Department of Energy (DOE) on 5 August. 

The project has a rocky history - President Obama resurrected it last year after the previous administration abandoned it, citing escalating costs that were later found to be the result of errors in cost estimate comparisons. 

Dubbed ’FutureGen 2.0’, the revised initiative is a clean coal repowering programme and carbon dioxide storage network.

The original FutureGen site was supposed to be in Matoon, Illinois, and serve as the nation’s first commercial-scale coal plant equipped with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. Under the revised FutureGen 2.0 plan, the site will now serve as a regional deep saline injection CO2 storage facility.


FutureGen 2.0

Instead, an idle 200 megawatt coal-fired power plant in Meredosia, Illinois, owned by power company Ameren, will be retrofitted with advanced oxy-combustion technology that burns coal with a mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide instead of air to produce a concentrated CO2 stream. The DOE says the plant’s equipment will help deliver 90 per cent CO2 capture and eliminate most nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides, as well as mercury and particulate emissions. 

Under this new FutureGen plan, Ameren and the other project partners will establish a CO2 pipeline network that stretches 150 miles between Meredosia and Mattoon to transport and store more than 1 million tonnes of captured CO annually. 

Despite local support from senators in Illinois, some lawmakers are concerned about the change, noting that Obama - who represented Illinois in the Senate before becoming president - pledged to get FutureGen back on track during his 2008 presidential campaign. In fact, he was one of several Illinois lawmakers who protested against plans to drop the project in 2008.

Illinois Republican Rep. Timothy Johnson is concerned that the new plan reduces FutureGen’s scope. In a 5 August statement, he urged Obama to ’stay the course of the original plan’ to build the state-of-the-art, clean coal generation plant, which has been in development for 7 years.

’They are now talking about making Mattoon a repository for the sequestration of carbon dioxide piped in from all across the country,’ Johnson said. ’This is not even close to the scientifically reviewed project that had been promised.’ 

Rebecca Trager, US correspondent for Research Europe