The Department of Energy said that instead of building one $1.8 billion clean-coal research facility, called FutureGen, it will fund only the equipment to eliminate carbon dioxide emissions. And instead of building at one site in Mattoon, Ill. the department will add carbon dioxide equipment to several commercial coal plants around the country, possibly in Texas.
"This approach could allow multiple locations to support advanced coal technology," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said. "They would sequester at least double the amount of carbon dioxide as the concept announced in 2003."
The decision, designed to cut the government's costs, reflects recent advances in coal gasification technology.
Some commercial power companies are ready to build coal gasifiers to cut pollution, but they'd like the government help with higher costs.
"There's no question that carbon capture and sequestration at multiple sites is the single greatest contribution to solving global warming," said David Crane, chief executive of NRG Energy. Mr. Crane said a coal gasification plant that NRG is planning in New York might be a good candidate for a FutureGen carbon dioxide site. He'd like to build similar plants in Texas and propose them as FutureGen sites as well, if he can work out the cost here.
Coal gasification plants, known as integrated gasification combined cycle, or IGCC, cost as much as 20 percent more than traditional coal plants, excluding carbon dioxide capture and sequestration equipment.
Energy Future Holdings, formerly called TXU Corp., is also considering building IGCC plants. The company could bid to host a FutureGen carbon dioxide site, and a spokesman said the company isn't ruling anything out.
Rising cost estimates for FutureGen almost caused the Department of Energy to cancel the project. Costs had almost doubled to $1.8 billion, and the department would have been responsible for 74 percent of the tab. The FutureGen Alliance of companies agreed to pay for the rest.
Clay Sell, deputy secretary of energy, said the department asked the alliance in December not to announce that it would build the plant in Mattoon, since the department wanted to restructure the project.
The department requested $156 million from Congress to fund the program in 2009. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, said he urged the department during the last couple of months not to cancel the project. He wanted the plant built in his home district, in Jewett. Odessa was also in the running, along with two sites in Illinois.
But now, he said, he supports the idea of spreading the federal money among multiple plants.
"I want to see the details, but I support it conceptually," he said. "And I certainly support a potential Texas facility, hopefully in Jewett, Texas, but maybe somewhere else." The Department of Energy aims to begin operating the carbon capture and sequestration equipment by 2015.
The department issued a request for information seeking input from the power and coal industries by March 3. That will determine how many carbon dioxide capture locations the department can pay for. Mr. Barton said he expects the department to build three or four plants.