August 28, 2006

University officials assist FutureGen finalists

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Representatives from the Coal Research Center at Southern Illinois University Carbondale are working with two central Illinois communities in the running for the FutureGen next generation power plant.

University officials will be on hand for two public meetings this week in the communities up for the project. John Mead, director of the center, said he and others will attend a meeting Tuesday, Aug. 29, in Tuscola, and Thursday, Aug. 31, in Mattoon.

At the request of representatives of the two communities, SIU President Glenn Poshard will testify at both public meetings in support of their applications.

Mead said University officials are helping the communities with a variety of issues as they compete for the project, which officials estimate will bring several thousand jobs to the area where it is built. The Illinois communities are in a race with two Texas communities — Jewett and Odessa —for the $1 billion project.

The first-of-its-kind prototype project will use coal gasification processes to generate electricity while also generating hydrogen for use in a variety of applications, including fuel cells. It will drastically cut carbon dioxide emissions by storing it underground instead of releasing it into the atmosphere like traditional power plants.

As envisioned, the plant would supply enough electricity to power about 150,000 homes while creating near zero emissions. The plant's success also would be a huge boost to the coal industry in Illinois and other states by removing the environmentally damaging effects of burning that fuel for energy.

"The work that we're doing at SIUC involving coal gasification and hydrogen production is a very central part of FutureGen," Mead said. "We've worked with the state on promoting large-scale demonstration projects for a long time."

Mead expects to assist the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in making presentations on the technology involved with the plant and answering questions.

"We've been involved from the start, providing support to the state," Mead said. "We continue working with the state on promoting FutureGen and assisting in evaluating sites."

All four sites currently are preparing for in-depth environmental reviews. The state recently pledged another $733,000 to cover those and other engineering costs. All together, the state has promised about $17 million to the project, and even more in low-interest loans.

At one point, Southern Illinois was in the running for the project, but officials disqualified it based on its proximity to geologic fault lines. Mead said he wants the Coal Research Center to stay involved with the project no matter where it ends up.

"We will be available and will be very affirmative in our approach," Mead said. "This project is a nice opportunity for teaching and research."

He said SIUC's involvement will depend largely on the industrial consortium that will build and operate the plant

"Right now, we are focused on assisting the state in landing the project," Mead said. "Mattoon and Tuscola are great sites and we want to make the best presentation possible."

Utilizing key University programs and resources to assist in the development of the coal, energy and manufacturing sectors in the region is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint the University is following as it approaches its 150th anniversary in 2019.