ADM may revive FutureGen project

Published: 4/6/2009 3:01 PM

Archer Daniel Midland Co.'s effort to sequester carbon emissions from ethanol production may help revive Illinois's FutureGen project, which aims to do the same for a coal-fired power plant, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin said.

"The sooner we break ground on FutureGen, the better," Durbin, a Democrat who holds the Senate's second-highest ranking post, said in an interview with Bloomberg News today. "We've given the Department of Energy all the information. I hope we can start on this in the next construction season."

Durbin spoke after a news conference during which Decatur, Illinois-based ADM announced that its $84.3 million Illinois Basin initiative, announced more than a year ago, had broken ground. The ADM project is the first large-scale storage well being drilled to sequester carbon dioxide in the U.S.

"Hopes are high, but empirical data drawn from large-scale projects is not," ADM Chief Executive Officer Patricia Woertz, 56, said at a news conference today.

Expertise developed in ADM's project would help FutureGen and similar projects, said Scott Klara, director of the Department of Energy's Strategic Center for Coal.

"The Department of Energy is assessing how to spend stimulus funds dedicated to carbon capture and storage," Klara said. "The plan could include FutureGen."

By early 2010, ADM plans to capture, compress and inject 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from its Decatur, Illinois ethanol plant into the Mount Simon sandstone, the company said in a statement on its Web site.

Mount Simon Sandstone

The project is on the cusp of drilling through the Cambrian-age Mount Simon sandstone, which was last penetrated about 20 years ago when it was probed for oil and gas deposits, said John Litsynski, project manager for the National Energy Technology Laboratory.

Workers are now drilling through the layer on top, the Eau Claire Formation, a 500-foot layer of impermeable rock, Litsynski said. Then, within about two weeks, the project will start drilling more than a mile deep to the bottom of the Mount Simon sandstone and begin extracting core samples for analysis.

The Energy Department provided $66.7 million of the funding for the project, with ADM, other corporations and the state of Illinois contributing the rest. Schlumberger Ltd.'s carbon- services unit is also working on the project.

"It doesn't surprise me that ADM is at the forefront of this project," said Durbin said during the news conference.

The FutureGen project, designed to burn coal and capture 90 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions, was abandoned by the Bush administration in 2008 after the Energy Department overestimated its cost by $500 million, according to a report by the Government Accountability Office.

The plant's revival, championed by Durbin and other Illinois politicians, is backed by a group of coal producers and users including Peabody Energy Corp. and American Electric Power Co.