Where are these technologies tested?
There are two key national ultrasupercritical projects underway, both supported by the Department of Energy and the Ohio Coal Development office (OCDO).
The first is a five-year effort to develop a sufficiently robust boiler, an effort joined by Energy Industries of Ohio, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Electric Power Research Institute.
The other is focused on developing steam turbine materials, which have the support of France's Alstom, Germany's Siemens and General Electric.
Are there any deployments in the field?
There are just four commercial-sized coal-fired IGCC plants in operation. Two are in Europe and two in the US, one each in Florida and Indiana.
There have been significant capital and engineering investments made in IGGC technology in recent years by a small number of industry leaders, including ConocoPhillips , Shell and GE.
The federal government made a significant commitment to advancing this technology through its $2 billion FutureGen project, but support was withdrawn in January 2008 because of cost overruns and concerns the technology might quickly become obsolete. The next administration is expected to revive support.
Despite the compelling need, there are precious few IGCC projects still being pursued. Known plans include one by Duke Energy and a joint project undertaken by Hydrogen Energy and Edison Mission Energy, a subsidiary of Edison International .
Are there other potential solutions?
Anticipation of some form of carbon controls (most likely a market-based cap & trade system) has stimulated investment in other ways to capture carbon. Most are a variation on how other pollutants have been controlled.
For instance, liquids or solids (or static electricity) are injected into the plant’s flue gas exhaust to capture particles. Carbon is currently captured by exposing flue gas to an ammonium carbonate solution, which is then heated under pressure, reversing the absorption process so pure carbon is recovered. Georgia Tech University researchers recently reported using a solid adsorbent called "hyperbranched aminosilica" to capture seven-times more carbon. The substance can be recycled and reused.
Another capture method uses chilled ammonia, with which Alstom has demonstrated (in a lab) a capture rate of more than 90 percent and at a far less cost. The company is running a pilot project at Wisconsin Energy’s Pleasant Prairie Power Plant.
Technologically-based upstart companies — as well as infrastructure firms — offer investors limited entry into this sector, which is for the most part dominated by large firms.