Illinois has been at the forefront of next-generation fuels—but on Tuesday, the state was chosen as the home for a next-generation facility that burns decidedly low-tech fuel: good old-fashioned coal.
The town of Mattoon beat out three other finalists as the site for , which aims to convert coal into hydrogen and electricity while capturing and storing the carbon dioxide 3000 ft. underground. The U.S. Department of Energy hopes the $1.5 billion plant will generate 275 megawatts of electricity and power 150,000 homes, and be nearly free of greenhouse gas emissions.
Last year, Americans consumed more than 1 billion tons of coal, and more than 80 percent of the carbon dioxide emitted by generating electricity in the United States comes from coal. Proponents say the plant's integrated gasification combined cycle, which turns coal into gas before combustion, dramatically reduces most emissions—except CO2, though that will soon be buried in the heartland.
Meanwhile, Illinois remains a major player in another national energy debate: According to the Illinois Corn Growers Association, the state is the second-leading producer of corn in the U.S. (1.5 billion bushels annually), and corn grown there is used to make 40 percent of the ethanol consumed in the country. Pending legislation would mandate corn-ethanol usage of 15 billion gal. per year (more than three times our current consumption) by 2015.
The FutureGen plant will be built on 444 acres northwest of Mattoon; the other finalists were Tuscola, also in Illinois, and the towns of Odessa and Jewett, in Texas. Construction of the plant will begin in 2010, with full-scale operation expected in 2013.