A US$1.65 billion carbon capture project in the US in under threat from a lawsuit launched by one of America's oldest environmental groups.

Illinois’s FutureGen project – the first large-scale carbon capture facility to be built in the United States, is facing a lawsuit from environmental group the Sierra Club just a week after the start of construction.

While ostensibly a natural ally to such an ambitious carbon capture project, the Sierra Club claims that revival of the Meredosia plant, which was shut in 2011 due to lack of profitability, will release thousands of tons of air pollutants each year that are harmful to both the environment and health of human residents.

The environmental group is now attempting to thwart FutureGen with a lawsuit that seeks to overturn the permit issued by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency in relation to the air discharges of the project.

The Sierra Club, which is one of America’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental groups, seeks to phase out the usage of coal completely with its “Beyond Coal” campaign, whose stated objectives are to retire old and outdated coal plants as well as prevent the construction of new coal plants.

The FutureGen project is the retrofit of an 65-year old coal-fuelled plant located in Meredosia, Illinois which will capture the carbon dioxide produced by the facility in order to dramatically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

The $1.65 billion project is undoubtedly the largest of its kind in the United States at present, with the only other significant carbon capture being undertaking in the country consisting a small demonstration unit in Mobile, Alabama which sequesters some of the emissions produced by the Plant Barry Power Station.

According to FutureGen’s backers, the technology permits the separation of at least 90 per cent of the carbon dioxide emissions it produces by burning coal in a stream of pure oxygen. These emissions will then be conveyed to underground storage areas by means of 50-kilometre long pipe, and sequestered permanently in compressed form in a geologic saline formation.

FutrureGen is also the first commercial-scale demonstration of the use of oxy-combustion to capture carbon dioxide, and could provide a boost to similar projects waiting in the wings.

carbon capture facility

Carbon Capture Facility

According to Ken Humphreys, CEO of FutureGen Industrial Alliance, the project’s prospects could be severely undermined by the Sierra Club’s lawsuit, however, given the jitters it’s causing amongst investors who still need to provide another $650 million in funding.

This in turn puts at risk $1 billion in federal stimulus funds allocated to the project in 2010 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, that must be used by a September 2015 deadline.