Coal is almost the perfect fuel. It’s cheap and absurdly abundant—especially in the U.S., which has the world’s larges reserves. There’s just that tiny problem of massive climate-altering carbon dioxide emissions. Or is there?
The FutureGen Alliance—a coalition of private power companies and the U.S. Department of Energy—thinks it can make power cleanly by siphoning off the carbon dioxide and pumping it into underground reservoirs. The Alliance spent the past year evaluating four locations around the country that applied to host the first full-scale power plant using the technology; and today it chose Mattoon, Illinois as the winner.
Unlike a regular coal power plant, the FutureGen plant won’t actually burn coal but gasify it by exposing powdered coal to oxygen in a high-pressure heated chamber. The system yields several gases which are processed into hydrogen, which burns in a turbine to produce electricity, and carbon-dioxide, which is pumped into deep geologic formations that researchers expect to hold the gas indefinitely. Proponents say that gasification is easier than capturing CO2 from a regular power plant because it produces it produces a smaller volume of exhaust and it easily traps most other pollutants from coal, such as Mercury.
Pop Sci reported on the FutureGen project in February 2007, and we’re anxious to see if the Alliance can make good on its bold promise.—Sean Captain
(Image Credit: Kevin Hand)