First Major Carbon-Trapping Plant May Boost Green Jobs

The already blossoming green jobs sector may get an added growth spurt with the U.S. Department of Energy‘s recent announcement that the FutureGen project is back on track.

A novel coal-fired, near-zero-emissions power plant in Mattoon, Illinois, FutureGen was first proposed by the Bush Administration in 2003 as a way to control carbon dioxide emissions, then later waylaid due to costs.

But U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu announced June 12 that the $1.5 billion plant will likely go forward, with construction planned for 2010.

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” … FutureGen reflects this Administration’s commitment to rapidly developing carbon capture and sequestration technology as part of a comprehensive plan to create jobs, develop clean energy and reduce climate change pollution,” Chu said in a statement.

The plant works by transforming coal into a gas made up of hydrogen, which in turn creates the steam needed to generate electricity through a gas turbine or a fuel cell. It also captures carbon dioxide and stores the gas permanently underground.

The Mattoon plant may call for up to 700 “green jobs” during construction, with a permanent workforce of more than a hundred, according to the FutureGen Web site.

The project and its potential for new jobs have already been popular in Mattoon,

Sarah Forbes, a senior associate at the environmental think tank the World Resources Institute, told the Green Guide.

A Green Job Explosion?

An “explosive growth” in green jobs was noted in a new Pew Charitable Trusts report.

That research found that the United States’s emerging clean energy economy grew nearly two and a half times faster than overall jobs between 1998 and 2007: That’s 9.1 percent compared with 3.7 percent, respectively.

Much of the clean energy growth—and FutureGen—is funded by the newly enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provides nearly $85 billion for energy- and transportation-related programs.

FutureGen may be a model for a new generation of clean power plants worldwide, which would each produce at least 300 megawatts of electricity and trap at least one million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, the DOE said.

The FutureGen plant is “an extremely positive step forward” as the country’s first large-scale commercial demonstration of carbon capture and storage, Forbes said.

Half of U.S. energy comes from coal, and ever-growing China, which gets 80 percent of its energy from the combustible rock, continues to build more polluting plants, Forbes said.

“It’s possible to envision a world where we don’t build another coal plant,” said Forbes, but “even if we don’t, what do we do with that [existing] fleet?”

FutureGen “is critical … in finding out if [carbon capture and storage] can be that solution.”

Christine Dell’Amore

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–Visit Green Guide’s Energy Savings hub for tips on carbon diets, the most planet-friendly appliances, and more.

–And read the latest on carbon offsets: “Do Carbon Offsets Do More Damage Than Good?”

Illustration courtesy U.S. Department of Energy

Human Journey

Christine Dell'Amore, environment writer/editor for National Geographic News, has reported from six continents, including Antarctica. She has also written for Smithsonian magazine and the Washington Post. Christine holds a masters degree in journalism with a specialty in environmental reporting from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her book, South Pole, was published in 2012.