The federal government might have been busy doling out grants and loans to renewable energy companies, but it hasn't forgotten the folks who have worked for years to commercialize carbon capture and sequestration technologies.

The U.S. Department of Energy said Monday it has awarded 19 projects a total of $27.6 million to monitor and determine the risks of piping emissions from coal-fired power plants to place with suitable underground storage. The project developers will contribute $8.2 million in matching funds.

Some of the money will be used to simulate how carbon might make its way into these underground nooks and crannies and whether it would stay put.

University researchers, including ones at Stanford, Columbia, Colorado School of Mines and Princeton, are carrying out most of the projects.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) is a controversial approach to prevent man-made emissions from being released into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change (see Carbon Capture: Possible Solution Part I, II, III and IV).

Proponents say CCS deserves strong government support to commercialize the technology, given that the world still relies heavily on coal-fired power plants for electricity generation. Coal plants supply nearly half of the electricity needs in the United States.

Opponents say investing in CCS would only prolong our reliance on coal, a dirty but abundant energy source. Government money would be better spent to accelerate the development and building of solar, wind and other renewable power plants, they contend.

Some companies have built pilot projects to test various CCS technologies (see Vattenfall to Trap Carbon Emissions). But determining ways to sweep carbon dioxide, treat it, transport it and keep it underground without much leakage is an expensive undertaking.

Some companies have proposed alternative methods, such as tinkering with the coal-burning process to produce fewer emissions in the first place or turning carbon dioxide into other compounds with commercial values.

The U.S. government plans to spend billions on researching and commercializing CCS. It has resurrected a project called FutureGen to build a CCS plant. The project would be co-developed by a consortium made up of coal, metal and power generation companies.

Last month, the DOE gave the go ahead to start the preliminary design of the project in Mattoon, Ill. The project would cost an estimated $2.4 billion, the DOE said. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act would provide $1 billion of that amount.

Incidentally, Monday also is the deadline for applying for matching funds under the government's Clean Coal Power Initiative. Southern Co., the country's second largest coal power producer, said it would apply, reported Bloomberg. American Electric Power last week said it would be seeking $334 million.