The issue of climate change has moved to the international forefront and many leaders in the U.S. government and industry recognize that advancements in technology are an essential part of any effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The flagship U.S. program to advance technology and reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, called FutureGen, is moving forward at a rapid clip.
This initiative will integrate technologies required to eliminate virtually all of the emissions associated with generating electricity using one of the world’s most abundant and secure fuel sources – coal. The FutureGen project will also advance these new technologies that combine coal gasification with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) to reduce the efficiency and cost penalties associated with a significant reduction in CO2 emissions from fossil fuels. No other project like FutureGen is underway in the United States or around the world.
FutureGen is a public-private partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the FutureGen Alliance, a consortium of 12 of the largest coal companies and electric utilities in the world. This team will design and build, in the United States, a first-of-its-kind, commercial-scale, coal-fueled power plant that will research and prove the capability of the technology to capture and permanently store 90 percent or more of the plant’s CO2 emissions. Additionally, FutureGen will reduce conventional emissions, such as NOx and SOx, to levels well below any other coal plant.
With the world’s need for electricity growing by 2.2 percent each year, the need for more electricity production is apparent; however, this need for electricity needs to balance with climate change concerns and energy supply issues. FutureGen balances those needs and issues through technological innovation, helping to fulfill the world’s appetite for affordable, cleaner energy.
Advancing Near-Zero Emissions Technologies
Researchers and industry have made great progress advancing technologies to support coal gasification, electricity generation, emissions control, CCS and hydrogen production. While these technologies exist today, they have yet to be integrated and tested in a commercial-scale power plant, which is essential in proving technical and economic viability. FutureGen is the first such living laboratory that will combine and test these technologies at a single plant.
The nominal 275-MW FutureGen plant will produce electricity roughly equivalent to the electricity needs of about 150,000 average U.S. homes.
Coal gasification is the core technology behind the FutureGen plant. A gasifier will be used to convert coal into synthetic gas comprised of mostly hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Through a water gas shift step, the carbon monoxide is reacted with steam to produce additional hydrogen and convert the carbon monoxide to concentrated carbon dioxide. The gas then goes through clean-up steps where sulfur, mercury and other impurities are removed.
The CO2 is separated from the hydrogen, compressed, and sent to wells that inject it deep underground where it will be permanently stored in a geologic formation several thousand feet deep. Impermeable caprock layers above the targeted formation will keep the CO2 from migrating to the surface.
The hydrogen gas will be used primarily to power a combustion turbine that will generate electricity. Steam heated by the combustion turbine exhaust drives a second turbine to generate additional electricity. This dual-turbine system used to create electricity from gasified coal is known as IGCC technology. The hydrogen can also be used to supply fuel cells, which can be used in a number of ways such as a fuel source for nearby industry or for vehicles.
One of DOE’s most ambitious goals for the FutureGen plant is to eliminate over 90 percent of the CO2 emissions. The FutureGen plant will sequester at least 1 million tons of CO2 per year, thus becoming the largest CCS test facility in the world using deep geologic saline formations.
Deep geologic saline formations, at depths greater than 5000 feet, are being proposed as the target formation for CO2 storage. DOE and the Alliance are interested in these formations because of their abundance throughout the world, making them a long-term viable solution for the widespread use of CCS technology globally. Additionally, many existing large CO2 point sources are within easy access to a deep saline formation injection point.
The FutureGen project is using a rigorous protocol to characterize and model the formations prior to injection. The project will also have the most sophisticated measuring, monitoring and verification system in the world to track the behavior of the injected CO2 so that public confidence can be gained concerning the viability and safety of CCS technology.
While CO2 storage in depleted oil wells has been widely used for enhanced oil recovery (EOR) since the 1970s — and is well understood — EOR opportunities are much less prevalent than deep saline formations globally. Because the Alliance wants to ensure that FutureGen is broadly replicable around the United States and the world, it is important to demonstrate CO2 in this more widely occurring type of formation.
Addressing Climate-Change Concerns Domestically and Internationally
The technological advances produced by the FutureGen project are not for the U.S. alone, but will be shared around the globe. The FutureGen Alliance, a non-profit consortium of many of the largest coal producers and electric utilities in the world, demonstrates the strong international commitment to the project. Half of the 12 industry partners, including Anglo American, BHP Billiton, the China Huaneng Group, E.ON U.S., Rio Tinto Energy America and Xstrata Coal, are headquartered outside of the United States.
The other six members are leading U.S.-based utilities and coal companies and include American Electric Power, CONSOL Energy Inc., Foundation Coal, PPL Corporation, Peabody Energy and Southern Company. Together, the Alliance member companies provide energy to tens of millions of U.S. and international residential, business and industrial customers in Asia, Australia, Canada, Continental Europe, the People’s Republic of China, South Africa and the United States, among other regions.
The active role of industry in this project ensures that the public and private sector share the cost and risk of developing the advanced technologies necessary to commercialize FutureGen’s technologies. Alliance members are pledging nearly $400 million toward the project’s costs and, in addition, bringing valuable technical expertise and industrial project management experience to the project. Further, the Alliance is facilitating the introduction of advanced technologies that are based on billions of dollars of past industrial investment.
The governments of India, South Korea, Japan and China have declared their intent to provide $10 million to DOE’s FutureGen Government Steering Committee. The Alliance is expected to continue to grow in membership as other companies and foreign governments have expressed interest in joining the partnership. The greater the breadth of support, the more potential there is to meet global energy demand cleanly and affordably.
Maintaining an Aggressive Timeline
Siting and building a power plant is a major undertaking that requires design, permitting and construction. A power plant with technological advancements and specific requirements for CCS in deep geologic formations is an even greater undertaking. Yet with the many challenges involved, FutureGen continues to meet its many project milestones.
A competitive siting process last year resulted in a selection of four candidate sites, two in Texas and two in Illinois, for locating the FutureGen facility. The DOE held public hearings at each site and in November released its final environmental impact statement (EIS) using the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process to determine those sites that are acceptable from an environmental perspective. The Alliance will make a final site selection by the end of 2007.
Engineering design also is well underway and construction will begin by 2009. By 2012, FutureGen, the full-scale R&D power plant, will be operational with CCS. Thorough above-ground and below-ground monitoring will be conducted to ensure the safety and integrity of the approach over the long-term. The Alliance is responsible for building and operating the plant and managing carbon sequestration. DOE is responsible for oversight, quality assurance and third-party verification of operation. Consistent with the Alliance’s intention to ensure that this technology will be made available to be replicated throughout the world, detailed reports that discuss the project’s activities to date, including the siting process
and conceptual design, are available for download on the Alliance Web site www.FutureGenAlliance.org).
Michael J. Mudd, Chief Executive Officer, FutureGen Industrial Alliance, Inc