FutureGen proposal eliminates processes

FutureGen proposal eliminates processes

TUSCOLA – An engineer who has looked at technical documents from the Department of Energy as part of its proposed restructuring of FutureGen says the new proposal eliminates hydrogen from the process needed to generate electricity.

Meanwhile, the Department of Energy's decision not to issue a "record of decision" may mean that none of the four finalist sites (Mattoon, Tuscola, or the Texas cities of Odessa and Jewett) have been cleared by the government as environmentally suitable for similar projects.

Douglas County Engineer Jim Crane is one of the few who has received and read the information packets sent out after Energy Secretary Sam Bodman announced he was abandoning the Mattoon project to build several coal plants among multiple states.

Crane's review shows that the revised plans leave hydrogen out of the process, apparently to cut the costs of the project.

He said the original concept of FutureGen was to use a coal gasification process to break down synthetic gas into pure hydrogen, which would then be put into a turbine to generate electricity. Carbon dioxide, a biproduct of the process, would be sent a mile below the surface, where it would dissipate over 100 years rather than pollute the atmosphere.

"They are no longer breaking down the synthetic gas into hydrogen," Crane said on Friday. "They want to directly burn the synthetic gas to produce electricity, and the hydrogen piece of FutureGen has gone away."

Since sulfur, mercury and heavy metals will remain in the gas, Crane said the new process will be less clean than the original FutureGen process.

The original FutureGen plan called for using some of the hydrogen to study fuel cell technology. Since hydrogen is no longer being used, this portion of the FutureGen project has been eliminated from the Department of Energy's latest plan.

The other issue worrying Tuscola officials is whether or not the Tuscola site will be recommended as suitable for similar projects.

Crane said he sent a letter to the Energy Department on Friday asking for clarification on Tuscola's status. He said he needs that clarification before the county decides whether to join in the new round of site selection by the Energy Department.

Months ago, when there were four FutureGen finalists, their representatives were ensured by FutureGen officials that even the communities that didn't get selected for FutureGen would be certified for similar projects when the Energy Department issued its "record of decision."

"We were assured by the FutureGen folks that not finishing first wouldn't be a complete loss once the record of decision was made, since we would have an environmental signoff showing our site was ready for a project of similar scope," Crane said.

But the Department of Energy scuttled plans for FutureGen without issuing its record of decision, so none of the four sites have that certification.

"So when they pulled the rug out from under Mattoon, the Department of Energy also didn't give us in Douglas County clearance on the site," Crane said.

Crane's letter to the Energy Department asks that the four sites at least be cleared for future development. "So what happened this week in Washington affects Tuscola because the site still hasn't cleared federal hurdles," he said. "I'm personally upset and frustrated. I hope we haven't done two years of work for nothing."

Deputy Energy Secretary Clay Sell said during a conference call Wednesday that the previously considered sites in Tuscola and Texas could be considered for one of several FutureGen sites, especially because of the environmental work that's been done on them.

However, he said additional environmental work would be required and that ultimately, power companies would present bids for sites that work best for such technology.

"(They'd be) sited where power generation companies decide there is a need for and an ability to build a base plant there," Sell said.

Meanwhile, the Douglas County board passed a resolution Monday in support of keeping FutureGen in Mattoon and Douglas County.

News-Gazette Staff Writer Meg Thilmony contributed to this story.

County Board Chairman Chuck Knox, R-Villa Grove, said the board passed the resolution to express the board's frustration over the decision to restructure FutureGen.

"I think we are all disappointed about the way the Department of Energy went about this," Knox said. "The department led us to believe that FutureGen was a go, and then it jerked the project out from under our feet. It doesn't seem to be a mature way for a government body to go about its business."

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