FutureGen Setback Marks a Win for Carbon Capture

Artists rendering of FutureGenThe U.S. Department of Energy has scrapped its support for FutureGen – a public/private partnership that was to build the world’s first carbon-neutral coal-fired power plant. Read the story before you blame coal gasification and carbon capture — the technologies FutureGen was to apply. Rather, DOE has decided that its share of the $1.8 billion FutureGen pricetag is better spent installing carbon capture equipment on commercial coal plants.

Federal funding for carbon capture is needed today because, without the carbon caps or taxes rejected by Washington, there are few instances in which capturing CO2 will pay for itself.

What DOE’s move recognizes is what coal gasification technology providers have been screaming for years: the gasification technology that FutureGen set out to demonstrate is already commercially viable. Your editor quoted one such expert back in 2005 in “Carbon Dioxide for Sale” — a story on carbon capture at the 1970s era Dakota Gasification synthetic fuels plant: “FutureGen is promoting technology that hasn’t even been demonstrated at small pilot plants,” said Dale Simbeck, vice president of technology for SFA Pacific, an energy consultancy based in Mountain View, CA. “But here’s a large-scale operation that’s technically successful and that’s doing all these things that are being talked about.”

Al Lukes, the plant’s chief operating officer, told me he was used to the surprised reactions of international visitors who came to see what was happening in the northern plains: “People look at us and say, ‘My God, you can do that?'”

Now even the U.S. Department of Energy seems to know that gasification and carbon capture exist.

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