Monday, December 13, 2010

Carbon Capture Takes Another Hit

The Obama administration’s pledge of $1 billion for construction of a major commercial scale power plant carbon capture project in Illinois, dubbed FutureGen 2.0, took another hit today with announcement of the economic failure of yet another in a series of European carbon capture projects subsidized by the European Commission. Illinois’ FutureGen 2.0 is a proposed a network of pipelines to deliver the sequestered carbon dioxide to a repository in Mattoon, where it would be stored underground, along with emissions from other plants in the region should the commercial scale carbon capture technology prove successful.

The 2.0 version of FutureGen is a scaled down version of an earlier, more ambitious project which began as planned construction of a ground up new 275 megawatt clean coal power generation facility in Mattoon, under the Bush administration. When the estimated $950 million price tag for the coal gasification facility more than doubled as construction estimates were finalized, FutureGen was revised to version 2.0 - revamping Ameren Corporation’s 200 megawatt Meredosia coal fired power facility with advanced combustion techniques, a new boiler, and an air separation unit to capture 90% of the carbon dioxide emissions.

The fourth hit in three months to carbon capture construction in the European Union came today with announcement of the financial failure and anticipated bankruptcy sale of Powerfuel plc’s proposed carbon capture facility at its 900 megawatt coal fired Hatfield power plant in South Yorkshire. Netherlands based accounting and consulting firm KPMG has been appointed administrator for the Powerfuel project. According to KPMG’s Richard Fleming, the Hatfield carbon capture development falls $1 billion short of capital investment needed, despite European Commission grants of $275 million in subsidies for the project.

Last October, Germany’s energy giant E.ON announced it was terminating development plans for carbon capture and sequestration on a commercial scale at its billion and a half megawatt coal fired power plant in Kingsnorth, U.K. That news was followed swiftly in November by announcement that both commercial backers bowed out of Finland’s carbon capture project at Meri Pori, and Royal Dutch Shell’s termination of plans for an underground carbon dioxide storage facility at Barendrecht.

Despite Powerfuel’s status as the only UK licensee for commercial scale carbon capture technology trials, and projections by UK’s Department on Energy and Climate Change that that carbon capture and sequestration is one of the cheapest forms of low carbon energy production, KPMG’s Fleming described the reasons for the financial failure of the Hatfield project: “Developing low-carbon energy generation requires a large amount of capital up front, and the CCS development falls $1 billion short of the investment needed to build the plant. … The substantial funding gap has not been addressed in the past 12 months, and accordingly the project has stalled.”

In light of this series of dramatic failures of carbon capture projects overseas, the silence from both Springfield and Washington about the prospects of completion for FutureGen 2.0 is deafening.
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