Abraham Announces Pollution-Free Plant of the Future

Issue 4 and Volume 107.

Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham has announced plans for the U.S. to build a prototype of the fossil fuel power plant of the future — a $1 billion venture that will combine electricity and hydrogen production with the virtual total elimination of harmful emissions and greenhouse gases.

“FutureGen will be one of the boldest steps our nation has taken toward a pollution-free energy future,” said Abraham. “Knowledge from FutureGen will help turn coal from an environmentally challenging energy resource into an environmentally benign one. The prototype power plant will serve as the test bed for demonstrating the best technologies the world has to offer.”

The Department of Energy will ask the power industry to organize a consortium to manage the project. The federal government would provide 50 percent of the costs.

Although current plans call for the plant to designed and built over the next five years, then operated for at least five years beyond that, the department envisions the project serving as a test bed for new technologies well into the coming decade and perhaps beyond. The plant would be sized to generate approximately 275 MW, roughly equivalent to an average mid-size coal-fired power plant.

Virtually every aspect of the prototype plant will be based on cutting-edge technology. The government will ask the industrial consortium to design a plant that will turn coal into a hydrogen-rich gas, rather than burning it directly. The hydrogen could then be combusted in a turbine or used in a fuel cell to produce clean electricity, or it could be fed to a refinery to help upgrade petroleum products. In the future, the plant could become a model hydrogen-production facility for President Bush’s initiative to develop a new fleet of hydrogen-powered cars and trucks.

Common air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides would be cleaned from the coal gases and converted to useable byproducts such as fertilizers and soil enhancers. Mercury would also be removed. Carbon dioxide would be captured and sequestered in deep underground geologic formations.

In fact, carbon sequestration will be one of the primary features that will set the prototype plant apart from other electric power projects. Engineers will design advanced capabilities into the plant to capture carbon dioxide in a form that can be sequestered. No other plant in the world has been built with this capability. The initial goal will be to capture at least 90 percent of the plant’s carbon dioxide with the hope that advanced technologies would eventually allow nearly 100 percent capture.

Captured carbon dioxide will be injected deep underground, perhaps into the brackish reservoirs that lie thousands of feet below the surface of much of the U.S. or potentially into oil or gas reservoirs, unmineable coal seams or basalt formations. Once entrapped in these formations, the greenhouse gas would be permanently isolated from the atmosphere.

Finally, the prototype plant would be a stepping stone toward a future coal-fired power plant that not only would be emission-free but would operate at unprecedented fuel efficiencies. Technologies that could be future candidates for testing at the prototype plant could push electric power generating efficiencies to 60 percent or more – nearly double the efficiencies of today’s conventional coal-burning plants.