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Illinois trumps Texas as site of green FutureGen power coal experiment
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14:44, December 20, 2007

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Decades after Texas outdueled Illinois for a multibillion-dollar science project that went nowhere, the Land of Lincoln is getting its revenge as the chosen home of a futuristic power plant developers hope will be virtually pollution-free.

The big question now: Will this experiment, again heavily subsidized by US taxpayers, do what the infamous superconducting super collider did not and actually work?

FutureGen, as the plant has been dubbed, is a public-private venture years in the making aimed at designing and testing technology to turn coal into a gas that can be stripped of hydrogen, which then would be burned to produce electricity. Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas created during the process, would be captured, then injected underground for ostensibly permanent storage.

The FutureGen Alliance, a consortium of 12 US and foreign energy companies, announced Tuesday that it chose Mattoon, Illinois, as the site of the plant over nearby Tuscola and the Texas towns of Jewett and Penwell.

At Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, John Mead thinks FutureGen is a can't-miss.

"I think there's a pretty high confidence that these concepts can be turned into successful engineered processes," said Mead, chief of the school's Coal Research Center. "We're pushing technologies. But I think the understanding of science is there and we're gaining experiences every day in terms of making these processes work. "I think the technology will be challenging, but I don't see that as a stumbling block."

Hours after Tuesday's announcement, the US Department of Energy warned that cost overruns for the $1.8 billion project - nearly twice the price tag almost five years ago - "require a reassessment of FutureGen's design". The DOE, and therefore US taxpayers, are footing three-fourths of the plant's cost.

"DOE believes that the public interest mandates that FutureGen deliver the greatest possible technological benefits in the most cost-efficient manner," said James Slutz, the department's acting principal deputy assistant secretary for fossil energy.

In the 1980s, Texas outbid Illinois and other states to win the super collider, what was to have been a 87-kilometer underground ring of magnets that would smash protons together.

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