A research centre with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is looking for support from the Springfield City Council on a $40m pilot project that would retrofit City Water, Light and Power’s newest power plant to capture carbon dioxide (CO2).

Kevin O’Brien, Director of the Illinois Sustainable Technology Centre, presented their proposal to council members during a Utilities Committee meeting. The project would study whether the method of capturing CO2 from CWLP’s emissions is effective and cost-efficient.

If chosen, the project, from construction to operation to possible tear-down, would be entirely funded by a U.S. Department of Energy grant. The U of I centre is currently one of nine finalists in the running for the grant. 

Construction would begin in 2021 and the study would last through to 2025. If the study is successful and CWLP wanted to continue the project, the centre could go back to the Department of Energy to see if the purified CO2 could be stored and used for commercial purposes, like growing algae for biofuel or for fertiliser.

The grant specifically lists that any proposal would have to require cooperation from a coal-fired power plant that produces at least 10 megawatts of electricity, O’Brien said. To get into the running, the centre submitted a proposal for two plants with the same specifications of CWLP’s Dallman 4 unit and the much smaller Abbott Power Plant on U of I’s campus. The plants were not named in the proposal submission.

However, to be one of the four or five projects chosen for the next phase of the grant process, the centre needs a letter of support from the city of Springfield before the end of the month.

In his pitch, O’Brien talked about the benefits to the city, including the use of local labour for construction and redeploying operators from CWLP’s older plants to work on the capture system. Though he listed reducing carbon emissions as one of the benefits, the proposed project would release the carbon once captured.

The project would bring in scientists and students from all over the area and the world, O’Brien said.

When an alderman asked about potential downsides, O’Brien said there is a possibility the system, which has worked at the 1.5-megawatt level, would not translate on a much bigger scale. Dallman 4 can generate 200 megawatts.

“The downside could be you put up the facility, it is taking a lot more cost to operate than expected, it doesn’t hit the economics, doesn’t look good, in which case what we would say is, ‘We’ll stop the project and tear it down and return it back to where it was,” O’Brien said.