Wednesday, December 19, 2007

FutureGen Update

Within hours of the announcement that Mattoon won the FutureGen bid, the call to stall came out. Here's an excerpt from one news article on the reasoning behind the DOE's decision:
"The biggest concern this past week for FutureGen Texas was the bickering between the DOE and the FutureGen Alliance over the timing of the announcement," said Hoxie Smith, who served as coordinator of the Permian Basin FutureGen Task Force.

Following this morning's selection of Mattoon, the DOE -- which had requested a delay in the announcement to let the agency evaluate public comments on the environmental impact statements -- issued a statement warning that projected cost overruns involving the plant "require a reassessment of FutureGen's design."
What puzzled me most about this entire project was -- why even pursue coal? Why not solar? Why not wind power? Why not other sources for hydrogen? In this enlightened age, why are we not considering renewable sources of energy rather than continued focus on using fossil fuels?

So... I'm reading through the huge EIS, and I come across this little section titled, "Technology Options Eliminated from Further Consideration," and I find what I think is the answer:
Pursuant to the President's FutureGen Initiative, DOE determined that all project alternatives must use coal as fuel, produce electricity, produce H2, meet very low target emission rates, and capture and store emissions of GHGs.
Well, that explains why maybe this technology -- the algae farm solution by Dr. Berzin, a rocket scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- was not even considered.
    His technology meets all but one of the criteria. It
  • does use coal (sort of)
  • does produce electricity
  • does meet very low target emission rates
  • does capture and store emissions of Green House Gases (sort of - actually it converts most of them rather than storing them)
but what it doesn't do is produce H2 (hydrogen). Instead, his technology produces bio-diesel and ethanol -- in abundance -- far more than either soy beans or corn, and with much greater efficiency from what I understand.

In addition, Dr. Berzin's technology also cleans existing coal plant emissions -- by up to 40% of CO2 emissions and up to 86% of nitrous oxide emissions. It can be added to almost any coal power plant and act like a powerful scrubber, sucking up a large portion of those GHGs already being belched into our air.

Now, if we reduced all our aging coal plant CO2 emissions by 40%, that gives us a far larger cut than the Kyoto treaty mandates ...putting us years ahead!

But what is the cost for such a technology?

Well, the algae needs to be harvested daily, so I'm guessing that would up maintenance costs for the power plants but considering the alternative fuels output (bio-diesel and ethanol), according to Dr. Berzin, the power plants can actually make a tidy profit.

And, unlike the almost $1.8 billion price tag for the FutureGen solution decided upon by our DOE, for the algae pilot project using a 1,000 megawatt power plant owned by one southwestern power company, the cost was $11 million in venture capital.

Now, you can imagine how many power plants could be modified if, say, the DOE's original budget agreed for FutureGen to the tune of $950 million were applied to Dr. Berzin's technology instead, right?

Hmmmm... affordable, ...sustainable, ...and profitable?

But for some bizarre reason, the DOE has its heart set on sequestering CO2. They have stricken from the list of consideration any renewable resource technologies, including wind power, wave power, geothermal energy, solar energy, and biomass combustion (which do not use coal and do not allow an opportunity to demonstrate the capture and storage of GHG emissions).

In fact, they're determined to use our tax dollars to sequester (meaning store) the green house gases. And equally determined that hydrogen be a product of the technology chosen, the way I read it in the EIS.

So, how many hundred, thousand, or million years into the future will it be when all that sequestered GHG starts bubbling to the surface?

Well, if you haven't already heard about all that methane bubbling up in the Pacific Ocean and from some of the newly thawing areas of permafrost, you might imagine like me that eventually, somewhere and at some time in the distant future, it's bound to find a way up.

When future generations look back in history at us -- what will they think?

Maybe that's too far into the future. So let's look to today's future generation. Here's a pretty good article that might tell you how they feel about how tax dollars are deployed in this country...

For a change of pace, and some insight for the coming 2008 election year, take a quick read through this insightful article: "10-round rumble: Generational 'fight of the century' looms as taxpayers revolt"

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