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The gasification process costs about 20 percent more than traditional coal-burning methods. Yet over 120 power plants have been proposed that will include coal as their fuel in the last year. That is more than in the 12 previous years.
Environmentalists say they're willing to buy in - as long as the industry does as well, and goes a step further by also using the process to trap CO2, one of the greenhouse gases that many scientists fear are contributing to global warming.
“We believe it should be considered the requirement for a modern power plant, but until [carbon capture] happens, this is still just the shiny object that distracts us from the nearly 500 dirty coal plants that are polluting the air,” said John Coequyt, Greenpeace energy policy specialist.
The Natural Resources Defense Council discussed the issue in the fall issue of its magazine Onearth. “Until coal is replaced with cleaner fuels, we must somehow make it part of the solution,” wrote editor Douglas Barasch.
Two major power companies, Cinergy and American Electric Power, plan to build IGCC plants in the Midwest in the next decade. Both companies are also involved with the Department of Energy's FutureGen coal demonstration project, which aims to promote carbon capture. However, neither company has yet announced an intention to incorporate capturing equipment on the IGCC plants they aim to build.
According to some experts, it is cheaper to add capturing to an IGCC plant than a traditional one. Ed Lowe, the gasification manager at GE Energy, which develops IGCC units for utilities, noted that adding capture to an IGCC system adds only 25 percent to the cost of the electricity, compared to a 60 percent increase for conventional plants.