When the U.S. Department of Energy pulled the plug on the FutureGen project, the clean coal industry was left adrift, aimless in the cleantech sea. The DOE said FutureGen’s ballooning cost required “restructuring” of the program. That restructuring has come in the form of a $1.3 billion funding opportunity announcement. The funding will be used for multiple commercial-scale carbon capture and storage projects for coal-fired power plants.
DOE seems to be subscribing to the “don’t put all your eggs in one carbon capture basket” doctrine. Just last month the DOE announced that two clean coal projects would split $126 million, entirely separate from this new funding. Project applications for this new funding are due in October and DOE aims to select participants by the end of the year. A total of $290 million is available for the 2009 fiscal year with the remaining $1.01 billion still subject to Congressional appropriations.
The DOE says this restructuring will limit the taxpayer’s risk in cutting-edge technology and should hasten near-term deployment. But according to DOE, “near-term” means operable clean coal plants by 2015, assuming the plants are in compliance and get all the necessary regulatory approvals on schedule.
There are a lot of unknowns in this project — such as, how many separate commercial-scale clean coal plants can $1.3 billion fund? — but the good news is both McCain and Obama say they will support continued research into clean coal technologies, so the changing of the guard next January will likely not jeopardize projects’ funding.