Sallie Greenberg compares the Illinois coal basin to a massive sandstone casserole dish where polluting carbon-dioxide emissions can be injected thousands of feet below ground and held for hundreds of years.
FARMERSVILLE — Sallie Greenberg compares the Illinois coal basin to a massive sandstone casserole dish where polluting carbon-dioxide emissions can be injected thousands of feet below ground and held for hundreds of years.
A layer of harder rock provides the lid.
It’s the not-so-scientific explanation behind a state bid to bring a $1.5 billion FutureGen clean-coal power plant to Illinois. The plant would generate electricity by converting coal to hydrogen, while creating hundreds of permanent and construction jobs.
But it’s so-called “carbon sequestration” — injecting carbon dioxide emissions into the earth, much like the storage system for natural gas — that is the key technology to winning the project for Illinois.
“This is the same geology that traps oil and natural gas. We essentially turn that process around and use it as a storage opportunity for carbon dioxide,” said Greenberg, an assistant geochemist with the Illinois State Geological Survey.
Her display of the technology was part of a bill-signing ceremony at Freeman United Coal Mine near Farmersville Monday, where Gov. Rod Blagojevich approved $82 million in state incentives intended to bring the project to Illinois. Mattoon and Tuscola, and two sites in Texas, are the finalists for the project.
A public/private investment consortium, including the U.S. Department of Energy, coal and power companies, is expected to announce a decision in November. The Illinois incentives include $17 million in grants, a $50 million low-interest loan and $15 million in tax breaks. The legislation also protects FutureGen from lawsuits for accidents or injuries.
The state has estimated the project would create 1,500 construction jobs, plus 150 permanent and 1,200 spin-off jobs.
“It’s a step closer, but we have more work to do,” Blagojevich said, adding that Illinois is a logical site for the project with its abundant supply of coal.
“What is really going to determine the decision is the merits, and Illinois can make a very strong case,” he said.
As part of the project, the federal Department of Energy began field tests in the spring of the carbon-sequestration technology in Illinois by drilling wells and injecting pressurized carbon dioxide into layers of sandstone.
A top layer of impermeable rock traps the carbon dioxide.
“It’s like a big casserole dish beneath the earth,” said Greenberg, who is coordinating the carbon-sequestration project for the state geological survey.
Carbon dioxide emissions linked to global warming have become a critical issue in the construction of clean-coal technology, which reduces traditional power-plant emissions such as mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide.
There are no state or federal standards for carbon-dioxide emissions, though the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled carbon dioxide should be considered a pollutant under federal clean-air laws.
The Sierra Club earlier this month challenged state approval of a coal-gasification plant near Taylorville because project developers did not include commitments reduce carbon dioxide.
Through use of carbon sequestration, the FutureGen plant would all but eliminate the emissions. Greenberg said the Texas locations have similar geology, but Illinois has not “poked holes” in potential storage areas with widespread drilling for oil and natural gas.
“They’ve been drilling oil wells (in Texas) for 150 years,” she said.
Wednesday is the deadline for Illinois and Texas to submit incentive packages to the FutureGen Alliance. The group is expected to spend the next several months analyzing the applications.
“Now, it’s a matter of waiting to see what we did not explain very well and providing follow-up information,” said Angela Griffin, a member of Coles Together, a Coles County economic development group that is promoting Illinois as the site of FutureGen.
A group of miners on their lunch break also joined the announcement.
“Anything that would be good for the economy of Illinois is bound to help,” said Tony Liebscher, president of Local 12 of the United Mine Workers of America.
Liebscher pointed out that, at age 52, he has worked in the mines for more than 25 years. He said he hopes projects such as FutureGen will improve the future of coal, but that he doubts the Illinois coal industry will return to the kind of coalfield employment it enjoyed when he went to work in 1981.
“I’d like to see it, but I don’t really look for it to happen,” he said.
Tim Landis can be reached at (217) 788-1536 or firstname.lastname@example.org.