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Back to the FutureGen: DOE Takes Shine to Controversial Carbon Capture Demo

FutureGen, a planned 275 MW cleaner coal demo project, essentially bit the dust last year when the Bush administration pulled funding. But with support from top officials in the new administration, the effort to build a coal-fired power plant equipped with experimental carbon capture technology has gained new life.

A joint effort between the government, coal industry and utilities that faced massive cost overruns, FutureGen was envisioned as a proof-of-concept project for carbon capture and storage technology, which remains untested on a commercial scale. The 2007 proposal to build a federally-backed “cleaner coal” plant put a bee in the bonnets of environmentalists and won big support from lawmakers in Illinois, where the plant was supposed to be built.

Among those Illinois boosters was now-President Barack Obama, whose Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, revealed yesterday that he wants to implement a modified version of the project. “We are taking, certainly, a fresh look at FutureGen, how it would fit into this expanded portfolio,” Chu said after a Senate hearing on Department of Energy research and development programs, according to a New York Times report.

In a nutshell, Chu wants to use FutureGen as a vehicle for the $1 billion allocated in the stimulus package for “fossil energy research and development,” collaborating with foreign energy ministers to create an international surge of research into carbon-management technologies. Rather than having several countries testing out similar technologies, he wants international planning and cooperation to help eliminate redundancy — and thus cut FutureGen costs, as the New York Times reports:

While the FutureGen plant was to have been a test bed for several technologies, if another nation plans to pursue one particular project, it would not have to be part of FutureGen, Chu said. This could help reduce project costs that otherwise could have been more than $2 billion, he said.

Chu’s support doesn’t guarantee stimulus funds for FutureGen — it still has to compete with other projects, as the Washington Post explains — but it certainly won’t hurt.

Artist concept of the FutureGen project courtesy U.S. Department of Energy