The future of the stalled FutureGen project in Illinois, USA is looking more positive following an agreement between the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the project’s sponsors to proceed with design work.

The deal paves the way for the construction of the first commercial-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) project in the US and reflects the US government’s commitment to support the development of advanced clean coal technologies.

The project will benefit from $1.073 billion of government funding, most of which will come from Recovery Act funds for CCS research. America’s pro-coal lobby has welcomed the deal, which follows several months of negotiations between FutureGen and the government.

“The Obama administration is to be commended for their decision to reinstate the FutureGen programme and fast-track the development of this extremely valuable project,” said Joe Lucas of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. “It is reassuring to know that the President supports the development and implementation of clean coal technology into our energy portfolio.

“Given that FutureGen is the first commercial-scale, ‘fully integrated’ carbon capture and sequestration project in the country, we are hopeful that its success will become a blueprint for the coal-based electricity sector going forward.”

The FutureGen Alliance, which includes a number of major coal producers and electric utilities, says that it will now work with the government to refine the plant’s design to reduce cost and technical risk. It hopes to begin equipment procurement and construction in 2010.

FutureGen was originally planned as a 275 MW “zero-emissions” power plant based on IGCC technology. Its future was thrown into doubt in early 2008 when the DOE, under the Bush administration, scrapped the project and announced a new strategy for clean coal power plant development.

The new design of FutureGen – to be hosted at a site in Mattoon, Illinois – will be decided after discussions with equipment vendors and considerations of cost, says FutureGen Alliance CEO Michael J. Mudd.

“This important step forward for 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,” said US energy secretary Steven Chu. “The FutureGen project holds great promise as a flagship facility to demonstrate carbon capture and storage at commercial scale. Developing this technology is critically important for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the US, and around the world.”