New Delhi: Even as the fate of the Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation deal is shrouded in uncertainty, the $2 billion (Rs8,000 crore) FutureGen project that is aimed at setting up a zero-emission thermal power plant has run into problems with no consensus emerging on the transfer of intellectual property rights (IPRs) for technology from the US to other participating countries such as India.
“It has not been fully resolved how the technology transfer will take place. We as a government do not own the IPR. It is owned by the private sector,” said visiting US under-secretary of energy Clarence Albright Jr.
India wants technology transfer because 67% of the country’s total power generation capacity of 140,000MW is based on coal, and the power sector consumes 390 million tonnes (mt) of the fuel a year. Also, of the 78,577MW that the country plans to add, around 46,600MW is expected to come from coal-based projects. A technology transfer of the kind being propogated by FutureGen would have helped India reduce environmental damage from burning coal.
However, the Indian government remained adamant.
“The US will have to share the technology with us. They have plans to restructure the project and will come back to us. We will examine it and then take a final view,” Anil Razdan, India’s power secretary said.
A power ministry official who did not wish to be identified said, “It will be very difficult to go forward with the arrangement in the absence of technology transfer. Anyway, India’s enthusiasm for the project is extremely low.”
Mint had reported on 7 March that India was considering pulling out of the project after FutureGen announced a restructuring of the objectives and the financing plan.
India’s dependence on coal-based power projects is due to the abundance of coal it has vis-a-vis other fuels such as natural gas. The country has has 256 billion tonnes of coal reserves, of which around 455mt per annum is mined.
The FutureGen project was conceived in 2003 as a public-private partnership to develop an environment-friendly 275MW thermal power plant in the US by 2012. The prototype would set the standard for similar plants that would produce hydrogen, in addition to electricity, and at the same time capture the resulting carbon dioxide emissions and store it within the ground. Construction was scheduled to begin in 2009 and it was to become operational three years later.
In March 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush announced a joint statement that said India would join the US government’s steering committee on FutureGen. India has already contributed $10 million to the project.
However, citing rising costs and the development of better technology, the US government announced a “restructured approach to FutureGen” this January. A press statement by the major funder, the US department of energy, said it would provide funding for the carbon capture and storage, or CCS, of the project and not for the entire plant construction, including the production of hydrogen. The press statement also said that it would invest in multiple plants that would be commercially working by 2015, and not one single plant. It, therefore, implied that all the costs, besides those relating to CCS, would now have to be absorbed by the alliance of international private power firms.
“This particular project looks like a non-starter. However, there are other technologies available for emission minimisation such as clean coal technology. Even if FutureGen does not work, we have other avenues such as focusing on hydro sector, renewable and focusing on improving energy efficiency,” said K. Ramanathan, fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute.
Nearly 74% of FutureGen’s cost, which has more than doubled from the initial estimate of $850 million in 2003, was to be borne by the US and other participating governments, and the balance was to be absorbed by a group of private companies, called the FutureGen Alliance. “The private sector particpation will see the project through and will involve less of government money,” said Albright.