Coal plant to test capturing carbon dioxide

By capturing CO2 after it is produced, Alstom's technology can be used with hundreds of today's traditional pulverized coal plants, Hilton says. General Electric and Siemens are developing technology for a new type of plant that turns coal into synthetic gases, filtering out the CO2 before the gases are burned, a simpler process.

Such plants are 20% cheaper than traditional coal plants, assuming both types add carbon capture and storage, says MIT professor John Deutch.

The FutureGen plant, scheduled to be built in Mattoon, Ill., would have used gasification technology. The Department of Energy canceled it last month, citing construction costs that would have pushed its price tag to nearly $2 billion, most of which the DOE would have funded. Instead, the DOE says it will help fund several smaller gasification plants spearheaded by the power industry around the country.

Deutch says only the federal government can oversee the challenging task of burying carbon in rock formations. Researchers must ensure that the carbon doesn't contaminate water supplies, and officials must determine who is liable if the CO2 leaks to neighboring properties, he says.

Hilton, however, thinks Deutch is underestimating private efforts. "Sometimes government programs prolong a product coming to market," he says.

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