Energy futureKing coal, III: DOE makes case for FutureGen restructuring

Published 14 February 2008

The Department of Energy restructures its approach to FutureGen — the ambitious plan to develop clean coal technology which produces hydrogen and electricity and mitigates greenhouse gas emissions

In the Tuesday and Wednesday issues we discussed the changes in the Bush administration’s clean coal policies. It would be useful to provide some of the factual background to the debate about clean coal technology:

* The International Energy Agency’s (IEA) World Energy Outlook estimates that the world’s primary energy needs will grow by 55 percent by 2030, with fossil fuels remaining a significant source of global energy supply. This IEA report also predicts a remarkable 73 percent increase in global demand for coal, driven largely by China and India’s growing economies

* In 2007 the United States consumed 1.1 billion tons of coal. By 2030 U.S. demand for coal is expected to grow by 48 percent, thus increasing to an estimated 1.7 billion tons, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Information Administration

* Since 2001 the Bush administration has invested more than $2.5 billion on clean coal research and development (R&D) technology

* Clean coal technology plays an important role in the Bush administration’s vision for a reliable, affordable, and more secure energy future, and the administration points to FutureGen as one part of a comprehensive, long-term strategy to diversify sources of energy and meet growing energy demand with clean, cutting-edge technologies


Last week DOE announced its intention to restructure FutureGen by equipping multiple new clean coal power plants with advanced carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. On 27 February 2003 the federal government announced FutureGen, a $1 billion initiative to create a coal-based power plant focused on demonstrating a revolutionary clean coal technology which produces hydrogen and electricity and mitigates greenhouse gas emissions. The FutureGen project was initiated in response to the National Energy Policy of May 2001, which emphasized the need for diverse and secure energy sources that could largely be provided by America’s most abundant domestic energy resource, coal.

FutureGen’s goal for a technological solution to produce electricity from coal in an environmentally responsible way remains the same, but the cost of the FutureGen project has almost doubled and could rise even higher. DOE says that tTechnological R&D and demonstration advancements over the past five years now allow FutureGen to evolve from a large-scale R&D testing lab to multiple commercial-scale demonstration plants. FutureGen’s restructured approach proposes federal funding for CCS technology at multiple new commercial-scale clean coal power plants. It includes engagement with the international community which will remain integral to advancing CCS technology