Clean Coal: Reality or Rhetoric?
increasing costs of clean coal technologies have prevented many
proposed IGCC plants from being built, and even one plant, called
FutureGen, that would have employed both IGCC technology and carbon
capture and storage. The FutureGen Industrial Alliance is a non-profit
public-private partnership of thirteen of the largest users and
producers of coal in the world.  The FutureGen Industrial
Alliance, along with the US Department of Energy (DOE), had planned to
build a plant that was virtually “emission-free,” creating both
electricity and hydrogen and providing for carbon capture and storage,
demonstrating clean coal technologies. The 275 MW plant would
have been capable of powering about 150,000 homes and would capture and
store 90 % of its carbon emissions, storing one million tons of carbon
dioxide.  The FutureGen Alliance and the DOE had selected Mattoon,
IL as the site where the plant would be stationed.
on January 30, 2008, the DOE withdrew its support for the project from
the FutureGen Alliance due to a rise in cost in $1.8 billion from an
initial estimate of $1 billion. The DOE now intends to focus on
carbon capture and storage, researching, developing and demonstrating
it, instead of focusing on both CCS and gasification. They want
to add carbon sequestration technology to advanced coal projects
(mainly IGCC) that are already in the works instead of building an
entirely new facility that contained employed both gasification and
carbon sequestration. Their revised approach to clean coal
technologies will involve determining to what extent the government can
share the cost of carbon sequestration projects, as well as offering
commercial plants research grants. The DOE also committed to a
10-year, $2 billion research initiative. However, neither the
FutureGen Alliance nor the DOE is giving up altogether. The DOE is
asking Congress for $407 million to research how to burn coal most
effieciently, along with $241 million to demonstrate CCS
technologies. According to Scientific American, this would still
total $900 million less than it would have cost to complete the
FutureGen project in Mattoon, and according to the DOE, will be more
cost-effective. Under the new approach several commercial plants,
each producing 300 MW of electricity will all capture and store carbon,
creating the capacity to store twice the amount of carbon dioxide as
the initial FutureGen project would have. The new approach will
also not include hydrogen production, but will involve the
international community. The FutureGen Alliance, however, wishes
to continue with the project at Mattoon instead of switching to the
re-structured approach, and is petitioning congress for their continued
support, citing that Mattoon has made more progress towards an
emissions-free plant than any other project in the world, and there has
already been a near-2000 page Final Environmental Impact Statement
(FEIS) completed about the site. They also maintain that costs
for multiple new, well-designed projects would be much higher than the
cost of completing FutureGen.
There have been
many IGCC plants proposed in various states recently, but few have been
approved by state and federal agencies due to costs. However, citizens
have also played a part in decisions to reject coal-fired plants, even
supposedly “cleaner” IGCC ones. In Arizona, the Bowie Power Plant
switched its power source from coal to natural gas due to heavy citizen
opposition. In 2002, the Arizona Corporation Commission approved the
Bowie plant to be a natural gas plant with two 500 MW generators.
It would also have had to add solar panels and compensate surrounding
farmers if they were harmed due to groundwater pumping by the
plant. However, gas prices later increased, and the company
decided to use coal as the power source instead, employing gasification
in a 600 MW plant and the company also proposed an experimental carbon
sequestration project. However, citizens in Bowie and Wilcox,
nearby towns, were concerned about pollution, noise, and water use from
the plant. On August 17th, 2007, company officials, plant
supports, and opponents all convened in a town hall meeting, where
there was a crowd of more than sixty people. At the meeting, the
general manager of Southwestern Power Group II, David Getts, told the
crowd that the peak demand for energy in Arizona was growing and the
number of current power plants could not meet the increased need for
energy. However, concerns were raised about the location of the
plant, since the population of Chochise County was not growing as fast
as other parts of Arizona, as well as concerns over whether IGCC
technology was the best option to employ. Nancy LaPalaca, an
activist from CO spoke about the concerns about and the benefits of
IGCC technology. Solar power was debated as well, and citizens
indicated that they would be willing to pay more for electricity that
would not pollute.
Ultimately, the Southwestern Power Group
decided to burn natural gas instead of coal. In response to this,
the Chocise County supervisor Paul Newman stated,
“In this day and age
we don’t see why we need to bring dirty coal down from Montana and
Wyoming to Southeastern Arizona and ruin our beautiful vistas.”
While this remark indicates that there may have been a good deal of
NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) politics involved in the citizens’
opposition to the plant, he also said,
“The citizens don’t want power
plants that add to this greenhouse effect. We’ve reached a tipping
This reflects the general resistance to coal that has become more prevalent
among citizens lately as they become more concerned about the effect
emissions of carbon dioxide have on the environment and climate
Edwards, Steven. “IGCC Technology: A Promising – and Complex-
Solution.” World Energy. V8. N3. 2008.
Biello, David. “ ‘Clean’ Coal Power Plant Canceled – Hydrogen Economy,
Too.” Scientific American. 6 February 2008. Accessed 25 April 2008.
 FutureGen Alliance. January 2008. Accessed April 25, 2008. http://www.futuregenalliance.org/>.
“Turning dirty coal into clean energy.” Morning Edition. 25 April 2005.
NPR.org. Accessed on April 9, 2008.
 “US pulls plug on showcase clean coal demonstration plant” Professional Engineering. 13 February 2008. Pg. 5
“DOE Drops Clean Coal Plants to Focus on Carbon Capture.” ENR:
Engineering News-Record. Vol. 260. Issue 5. February 11, 2008. Pg. 12.
 Buchsbaum, Lee. “The Future of FutureGen.”EnergyBiz. March/April 2008. Pg. 72.
 “Carbon Burial Buried” Nature. Vol. 451. 7 February 2008. Pg. 612-613
 “FutureGen Clean Coal Projects.” US DOE. 27 February 2008. Accessed 25 April 2008.
 “FutureGen chairman urges House panel not to abandon progress at Mattoon.” FutureGen
Alliance. 15 April 2008. Accessed 25 April 2008.
“Power plant decides to burn natural gas instead of coal.” Associated
Press. The Arizona Republic. September 2, 2007.
Porier, Shar. “Bowie Power Plant faces opposition at town hall.”
Arizona Range News. Wilcoxrangenews.com. 23 August 2007. Accessed 25
A full list of members of the FutureGen Industrial Alliance can be found at: http://www.futuregenalliance.org/alliance/members.st
Figure 6: Coal
Figure 7: Fort Bowie, near Bowie, Arizona
Figure 8: Protest against coal