The FutureGen 2.0 clean coal project in Illinois took a major step forward when the U.S. Department of Energy issued a final environmental impact statement (EIS) on the long-delayed and much-revamped project.
The EIS evaluates the potential impacts associated with DOE’s proposed action to provide financial assistance to the FutureGen Industrial Alliance for the FutureGen 2.0 Project. DOE’s proposed action would provide approximately $1bn of funding (primarily under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) to support construction and operation.
For the FutureGen 2.0 Project, the Alliance would construct and operate a 168-MWe gross output coal-fueled plant using advanced oxy-combustion technology. The plant would use existing infrastructure, including the existing steam turbine generator (Unit 4), at Ameren Energy Resources’ shut Meredosia Energy Center on the Illinois River just south of Meredosia, Ill.
The proposed project would include facilities designed to capture at least 90% of the CO2 that would otherwise be emitted to the atmosphere during steady-state operation, equivalent to about 1.2 million tons of CO2 captured per year. The captured CO2 would be compressed and transported via a new underground pipeline, around 30 miles long and nominally 10 to 12 inches in diameter, to a geologic storage area in eastern Morgan County, where it would be injected and stored in the Mt. Simon Formation (a saline aquifer) approximately 4,000 feet below the ground surface.
The repowered unit would include oxy-combustion and carbon capture technologies provided by the Babcock & Wilcox Power Generation Group and Air Liquide Process and Construction. The DOE-funded demonstration period would last for 56 months from the start of operations (approximately 2017) through 2022.
Members of the Alliance include some of the largest coal producers, coal users, and coal equipment suppliers in the world. The Alliance’s current members are: Alpha Natural Resources (NYSE: ANR); Anglo American SA; Joy Global; Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU); and Xstrata PLC.
“The development of carbon capture and storage technologies through the FutureGen 2.0 Project would demonstrate a viable path forward for the ongoing and future use of the nation’s abundant coal reserves in a manner that addresses both aging infrastructure and environmental challenges,” said the final EIS. “Federal financial support is needed to help reduce the risks inherent in these first-of-a-kind projects, which without financial assistance would be unlikely to occur.”
Project refinements caused some changes in the final EIS
There were changes made between the draft and final versions of the EIS, though none appear to represent any danger to the project’s viability. For example:
- During the EIS process the Alliance continued to develop its conceptual and preliminary designs for the energy center, pipeline, and injection wells for permanent geologic CO2 storage. In February 2013, the Alliance entered Phase II of the project for completion of front-end engineering and design. The final EIS reflects the changes that have been made to the project design since release of the draft EIS.
- Refinements in the project design since issuance of the draft EIS resulted in an increase in input rates for coal, hydrated lime, trona, and the generation rate of bottom ash, along with the daily and yearly truck and barge trips. Also, the Alliance is now considering an option for offsite blending of the two coal types at an existing commercial coal handling facility in St. Louis, instead of the current plan for onsite blending. This option would reduce truck traffic but require additional barge deliveries.
- The FutureGen 2.0 designers initially calculated emissions for the oxy-combustion facility based on a proposed generating capacity of 200 MWe. Estimated emissions based on these calculations were reported in the construction permit application to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in February 2012. While the draft EIS was being prepared, the Alliance decided to reduce the planned capacity to 168 MWe, and DOE analyzed all other resources in the draft EIS based on the revised capacity of 168 MWe. But the air quality analysis in the draft EIS was based on a 200 MWe capacity because a revised construction permit application had not yet been submitted for the lower capacity. Since publication of the draft EIS, the Alliance submitted a revised construction permit application in June 2013 to reflect the 168 MWe capacity.
Plant traditionally took a mix of Illinois and PRB coals
The coal handling system at Meredosia serves Units 1 and 2, which typically burned bituminous coal from Illinois sources, and Unit 3, which typically burned 100% Powder River Basin (PRB) sub-bituminous coal from Wyoming. During operations, the bituminous coal was delivered by truck, while the PRB coal was delivered by barge (from St. Louis, Mo., where it was delivered from Wyoming via rail).
At the end of 2011, Ameren suspended operations Meredosia operations due mainly to the expected costs of complying with recently implemented air regulations, specifically the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. Since then, only security personnel work at the energy center, with a few Ameren employees onsite from time to time to perform periodic inspections of the facility to comply with ongoing environmental monitoring requirements and to maintain facility integrity for the FutureGen 2.0 Project. Suspension of operations means that the energy center currently is not operating, but Ameren is complying with applicable permits and their associated requirements. All equipment remains in operable condition. If the FutureGen 2.0 Project were to be implemented, the energy center’s boiler operations and auxiliary operations not associated with the FutureGen project would be terminated.
The construction phase for the oxy-combustion facility at Meredosia, including initial demolition, is estimated to occur over a period of about 42 months beginning in 2014 and extending through 2017. However, construction would be substantially completed within 30 months, and the last 12 months of construction would overlap with a one-year commissioning and startup effort.
The project would burn a blend of 60% Illinois No. 6 bituminous coal and 40% PRB coal. The Illinois underground coal mines that may provide bituminous coal for the project include Arch Coal’s (NYSE: ACI) Viper mine, Tri-County Coal‘s Crown 3 mine and Foresight Energy’s Shay mine, which are all located 75 to 85 miles from Meredosia. PRB coal would move by rail to St. Louis, Mo., then transported to the plant via barge.