Green future for fossil fuels

The US Department of Energy has signed an agreement with the FutureGen Industrial Alliance to build FutureGen, a prototype of the fossil-fuelled power plant of the future.

US Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman today announced that the Department of Energy (DOE) has signed an agreement with the FutureGen Industrial Alliance to build FutureGen, a prototype of the fossil-fuelled power plant of the future.

According to a DOE statement, the $1 billion government-industry project will produce electricity and hydrogen with zero emissions, including carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

The initiative is a response to President Bush’s directive to develop a hydrogen economy by drawing upon the best scientific research to address the issue of global climate change. Over the next year, site selection, design activities, and environmental analyses will lay the groundwork for final project design, construction, and operation.

The FutureGen Industrial Alliance will contribute $250 million to the project. Current Alliance members are: American Electric Power (Columbus, Ohio); BHP Billiton (Melbourne, Australia); CONSOL Energy (Pittsburgh, Pa); Foundation Coal (Linthicum Heights, Md.); China Huaneng Group (Beijing, China); Kennecott Energy (Gillette, Wyo); Peabody Energy (St. Louis, Mo); and Southern Company (Atlanta, Ga).

The Industrial Alliance plans to issue a site selection solicitation in early 2006, to develop a short list of the most qualified candidate sites by mid-2006, and to make a final site selection in mid to late 2007.

FutureGen will initiate operations around 2012. The project will integrate testing of emerging energy supply and utilisation technologies as well as advanced carbon capture and sequestration systems. Technologies planned for testing at the prototype plant could provide future electric power generation with zero-emissions that is only 10 percent higher in cost than today’s electricity.

At the heart of the project will be coal gasification technologies that can eliminate common air pollutants such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides and convert them to useable by-products such as fertilisers and soil enhancers. Mercury pollutants will also be removed.

These technologies also will turn coal into a highly enriched hydrogen gas, which can be burned much more cleanly than directly burning the coal itself. Alternatively, the hydrogen can be used in a fuel cell to produce electricity, or fed to a refinery to help upgrade petroleum products. In the future, the plant could also become a model hydrogen-production facility for President Bush’s initiative to develop a new fleet of hydrogen-powered cars and trucks.

Carbon sequestration will be one of several key features that will set the prototype plant apart from other electric power plant projects. FutureGen will be designed to capture carbon dioxide and sequester it in deep underground geologic formations. No other power plant in the world has been built with this capability. The initial goal will be to capture 90 percent of the plant’s carbon dioxide, but capture of nearly 100 percent may be possible with advanced technologies.

Once captured, the carbon dioxide will be injected as a compressed liquid-like fluid deep underground, perhaps into saline reservoirs thousands of feet below the surface of much of the United States. It could even be injected into oil or gas reservoirs, or into unmineable coal seams, to enhance petroleum or coalbed methane recovery. Once trapped in these formations, the greenhouse gas would be permanently isolated from the atmosphere. The project will include an intensive measurement and monitoring effort to verify the efficacy of carbon sequestration.

The FutureGen plant will be sized to generate approximately 275 megawatts of electricity, which is roughly equivalent to a medium-size coal-fired power plant and sufficient to supply electricity to approximately 275,000 average US households.

Artist’s concept of FutureGen, prototype of coal-fuelled, pollution-free power plant