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Clean Coal: Reality or Rhetoric? 


What is Clean Coal?

Is it Really Clean?

Clean Coal Technologies

Clean Coal in the Media

The Cost of Clean Coal

Case Studies

References & Links

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Clean Coal: Reality or Rhetoric?

Case Studies


The 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. [11]  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.[12] 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. [11] The FutureGen Alliance and the DOE had selected Mattoon, IL as the site where the plant would be stationed.[13] 

However, 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.[14] The DOE now intends to focus on carbon capture and storage, researching, developing and demonstrating it, instead of focusing on both CCS and gasification.[14] 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.[9] 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.[15] The DOE also committed to a 10-year, $2 billion research initiative.[7] 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.[9] 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.[16] The new approach will also not include hydrogen production, but will involve the international community.[17] 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.[18]  They also maintain that costs for multiple new, well-designed projects would be much higher than the cost of completing FutureGen.[18]

Bowie Plant

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.[19] 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.[19] However, citizens in Bowie and Wilcox, nearby towns, were concerned about pollution, noise, and water use from the plant.[19] 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.[20] 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.[20]  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.[20] Nancy LaPalaca, an activist from CO spoke about the concerns about and the benefits of IGCC technology.[20] Solar power was debated as well, and citizens indicated that they would be willing to pay more for electricity that would not pollute.[20]

Ultimately, the Southwestern Power Group decided to burn natural gas instead of coal.[19] 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.”[19]

 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 point.”[19] 

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 change. 

Works Cited

[7]   Edwards, Steven. “IGCC Technology: A Promising – and Complex- Solution.” World Energy. V8. N3. 2008. <>.
[9] Biello, David. “ ‘Clean’ Coal Power Plant Canceled – Hydrogen Economy, Too.” Scientific American. 6 February 2008. Accessed 25 April 2008.
[11] FutureGen Alliance. January 2008. Accessed April 25, 2008.>.
[12] “Turning dirty coal into clean energy.” Morning Edition. 25 April 2005. Accessed on April 9, 2008. <>.
[13] “US pulls plug on showcase clean coal demonstration plant” Professional Engineering. 13 February 2008. Pg. 5
[14] “DOE Drops Clean Coal Plants to Focus on Carbon Capture.” ENR: Engineering News-Record. Vol. 260. Issue 5. February 11, 2008. Pg. 12.
[15] Buchsbaum, Lee. “The Future of FutureGen.”EnergyBiz. March/April 2008. Pg. 72.
[16] “Carbon Burial Buried” Nature. Vol. 451. 7 February 2008. Pg. 612-613
[17] “FutureGen Clean Coal Projects.” US DOE. 27 February 2008. Accessed 25 April 2008.
[18] “FutureGen chairman urges House panel not to abandon progress at Mattoon.” FutureGen
Alliance. 15 April 2008. Accessed 25 April 2008.
[19] “Power plant decides to burn natural gas instead of coal.” Associated Press. The Arizona Republic. September 2, 2007. <>.
[20]   Porier, Shar. “Bowie Power Plant faces opposition at town hall.” Arizona Range News. 23 August 2007. Accessed 25 April 2008.


 A full list of members of the FutureGen  Industrial  Alliance can be found at:


           Figure 6: Coal



    Figure 7: Fort Bowie, near Bowie, Arizona 


Figure 8: Protest against coal

Last updated:  5/9/2008


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