U.S. Changes Plan for Capturing Emissions From Coal

September 14, 2010 at 1:20 PM Leave a comment

U.S. Changes Plan for Capturing Emissions From  Coal

By MATTHEW L. WALD

WASHINGTON — The Energy Department abruptly shifted course on Thursday on a flagship federal effort to capture and sequester carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants, saying it would not finance construction of a new plant in Mattoon, Ill.

Instead of underwriting that project, which would have turned coal into a hydrocarbon gas, filtered out the carbon and burned the hydrogen, the government said it would contribute $737 million to remake an obsolete oil-burning plant in Meredosia, Ill.

In the new design, the plant would be fed pure oxygen and burn coal, and the exhaust gas would consist of almost pure carbon dioxide. That carbon dioxide would then be piped 170 miles east to Mattoon and injected underground, possibly along with contributions from an ethanol plant in Decatur, Ill., and other industrial plants along the way.

It is the latest twist for FutureGen, a federally supported venture to demonstrate the most advanced ways to convert coal to a gas, capturing pollutants and burning the gas for power.

Despite warnings that pollution from power plants contribute to global warming and that the United States should promptly build several prototypes using different technologies, FutureGen has been repeatedly delayed by drawn-out federal procedures for choosing a site and then by sticker shock in Washington.

The Bush administration cut off money, saying the costs were too high. But President Obama included $1 billion in last year’s stimulus bill. Now that there is money in hand, his administration opted to support a more advanced technology that some officials described on Thursday as FutureGen 2.

Although the planned retrofit involves an old oil-burning plant, the new approach could be a way of converting dozens of big old coal plants around the country, said Matt Rogers, a senior adviser to the energy secretary, Steven Chu. If successful, Mr. Rogers said, this would allow the coal industry “to remain competitive on a global basis.”

With new Environmental Protection Agency rules scheduled to take effect limiting power plants’ emissions of conventional pollutants like nitrogen oxides, mercury and particulates, he said, many older coal plants are candidates for re-powering.

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Entry filed under: Climate Change, Energy, National News.

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