New Delhi: Even as the Indian government is pushing hard to save its civilian nuclear deal with the US, it is rethinking its commitment to another high-profile research collaboration to which it has already contributed $10 million and that involves China, Japan, South Korea and some of the biggest power companies in the world.
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 future standards for similar plants that would produce hydrogen, in addition to electricity, and simultaneously capture the resulting carbon dioxide emissions and store it within the ground.
The Indian decision follows a US government rethink on the project, including a scaling back of its scope. The project was scheduled to begin construction in 2009 and become operational three years later.
“If the US government is backing out of the programme, it’s certainly an issue. We will be talking to them again and have scheduled a meeting tomorrow (Friday) that will include the ministry of external affairs,” said a senior government official in the power ministry, who’s involved with the programme but did not wish to be identified. “All I can say now is we are no longer sure what we stand to gain from the current FutureGen announcement.”
Getting a grip: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President George Bush announced a joint statement on FutureGen during the latter’s visit to India in March 2006.
On the sidelines of a bilateral meeting between India and the US last week, foreign secretary Shiv Shanker Menon noted that India is talking to the US regarding FutureGen.
In March 2006, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George Bush announced a joint statement that said India would join the US government’s steering committee on FutureGen and commit $10 million to the initiative.
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.
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 added 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 companies.
The companies, however, are not pleased. In a statement on 3 March, they said, “...the department’s (DoE) proposal to restructure FutureGen fails to recognize the scale of the (environmental) challenge that this nation, and indeed the world, is facing. It delays technology development and integrated demonstration of commercial scale CCS by five years or more. It backs away from a non-profit partnership that has been created to act in the public benefit and broadly share its technical results throughout the world. It rebuffs the participation of international companies (and countries) that are critical to the ultimate deployment of clean coal technology around the world; and it undermines the reliability of the US department of energy as a partner.”
It could not be ascertained as to what proportion of the cost would now have to be absorbed by the companies. Calls to the FutureGen Alliance were not immediately returned.
All this leaves India in a tight spot. According to another government official, who, too, did not wish to be identified, “India’s enthusiasm for the project is extremely low. It no longer makes sense to be involved with the project.”
Though largely an American initiative, India was keen to acquire an insight into a host of untried, futuristic technologies that could be employed in its coal plants, too.
India is dependent on coal as a fuel source, also a major source of polluting greenhouse gases.