PurGen One

From Global Energy Monitor
Clean Coal and the PurGen Project.
Taking Carbon out of Coal?

Cancelled in 2011, PurGen One was a 500-megawatt (MW) integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) / coal-to-fertilizer plant at old industrial site near the shore in Linden, New Jersey, proposed by SCS Energy (SCS). The plant would gasify and burn coal to generate electricity when power prices are high, or fertilizer when power prices are low. SCS planned to pump 90% of the carbon dioxide emitted from the plant 70 miles off the coast, into sandstone one mile below the surface of the ocean.

PurGen One would produce a net of approximately 500 megawatts of power per year.[1] The plant would originally produce 750 MW, but would require 250-300 MW to operate, or at least a third of the power produced.[2]

The name "PurGen" was created by shortening the term "Pure Generation."[3]

On July 26, 2011, New Jersey President of the Board of Public Utilities Lee Solomon said in a public hearing that “There will be no PurGen. That project is not going forward as a coal carbon sequestration plant. The Governor has said ‘no’ to any coal… I say that publicly, and on the record, and so did the Governor.”[4]

Project Details

Sponsor: SCS Energy
Location: Linden, New Jersey
Capacity: 500 MW
Type: IGCC/coal-to-fertilizer
Status: Cancelled


According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, SCS has begun pre-application meetings for permits. A city Planning Board hearing was held to discuss the matter on June 9, 2009.[5]

On January 26, 2010 the city of Linden approved a $2.5 million deal that cleared a legal obstacle to the proposed plant. The Linden city council unanimously approved the agreement, which resolves litigation stemming from the city trying to condemn an abandoned DuPont site. The agreement means that PurGen is free to move forward with its plans for the plant, including purchasing the site from DuPont and pursuing the necessary permits. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection recently received the air permit application from PurGen and is currently reviewing it. Officials with the agency don't expect to have a draft permit ready for public comment in 2010.[5]

Despite the agreement, opposition to the proposed plant remains strong. Late last year, the Environmental Justice Advisory Council to the NJ Department of Environmental Protection passed a resolution opposing construction of the proposed PurGen plant, stating that the city and county are already facing problems from air pollution, which will be exacerbated by the proposed plant.[5]

On May 24, 2010, citizen groups organized a forum where they could publicly express concerns regarding the plant.[2] The event was organized by Sierra Club New Jersey Chapter, Clean Ocean Action, New Jersey Friends of Clearwater, the Surfrider Foundation, NY/NJ Baykeeper, and the American Littoral Society.[2] Some of the main concerns were about issues around carbon sequestration, additional air pollution in an area already faced with industrial pollution, and worries that the plant would set a precedent for building new plants that are still dependent on fossil fuels and still pollute.[2]

Some people opposed to the plant hope that the New Jersey governor will step in to stop the plant, or that it will be stopped under the Coastal Zone Management Act and Coastal Area Facility Review Act.[2]

On Nov. 10, 2010, the City Council of Atlantic City, NJ, passed a resolution against the proposed PurGen One plant. They were unpersuaded by claims that underground CO2 storage was safe. Citizens United for Renewable Energy, a group opposing the plan, said it will approach local governments around the state to ask them to pass similar resolutions.[6]

In late December 2010, SCS Energy submitted their revised PSD permit application to the state. The original PSD permit application was for a 750 megawatt (MW) coal gasification power plant and fertilizer factory; the revised PSD permit application calls for a coal gasification power plant and fertilizer factory that will be half as big (400 MW). The revised proposal also claiming the plant will turn 90% of the carbon in its coal fuel to high-purity CO2, which will be buried beneath the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.[7]


Location of the proposed PurGen One plant. Source: New York Times

SCS plans to build its IGCC plant on Tremley Point Road in Linden, New Jersey. The site is nestled between the New Jersey Turnpike (to the west), natural gas plants (to the north and south) and the Arthur Kill tidal strait (to the east).[8] Staten Island lies across Arthur Kill. Newark, NJ and New York, NY are a half hour's drive from the site. No coal-fired power plants have been built in New Jersey since the mid-1990's and none have been built near New York City in the past thirty years.[9][10]

History of the location

PurGen One is planned to be built on the 100-acre site of a former chemical manufacturing factory.[11] The factory began operating in the nineteenth century under the Grasselli Chemical Company and originally produced industrial acids that were used by other manufacturing companies.[11] In 1928, DuPont purchased the site where the company made pesticides until 1990.[11] SCS Energy will purchase the site from DuPont for $95 million.[9]

Prior to the transfer of ownership, DuPont will attempt to clean up pollution from its pesticide manufacturing. The $13 million clean-up project is managed by John Vidumsky.[11] The company plans to inject hydrogen peroxide into the ground where solvents and pesticides "have settled 10-12 feet down into the soil and groundwater and are held up by a layer of thicker silt called a meadow mat."[11] The Sierra Club has criticized the plan; the group is concerned that the injected peroxide could actually aggravate the problem, possibly by making the chemical pollutants mobile.[11] The plan needs approval by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. Comments on the project can be submitted to the NJ DEP through September 30, 2010.[11]

Coal Gasification

The PurGen One plant would use IGCC technology which would heat up coal without burning it in order to create a gas.[10] The coal would be partially combusted in oxygen, creating carbon monoxide and hydrogen.[10] The hydrogen would be separated and used to power the utility plant when economically worthwhile to do so.[10] When the price of electricity is down, the hydrogen would be used to make products like ammonia and urea, which can be sold as fertilizer or for pollution controls in automobiles or industrial plants.[10][12] Water would be added to the carbon monoxide to create carbon dioxide, which would then be sequestered.[10]

Mecury and sulfur would also be separated out during the gasification as a pollution control.[12] The plant would be cooled by air.[12] SCS plans to use water from the Linden-Roselle wastewater plant and claims there would be no water discharge or water used from natural sources.[12]

SCS hopes to receive part of the $1.8 billion offered by the federal government for coal gasification projects.[10]

Carbon Capture and Sequestration

The idea for PurGen One evolved out of a 2006 paper titled "Permanent carbon dioxide storage in deep-sea sediments," written by Harvard University graduate student Kurt Zenz House and professor Daniel Schrag.[9] The paper argued that layers of rock deep beneath the ocean floor would be the best place to sequester carbon dioxide.[9] Following the paper's publication, SCS Energy hired Daniel Schrag as a consultant.[9]

Planned carbon sequestration pipeline for PurGen One. Source: New York Times

SCS developed a carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) plan based around a underwater sandstone formation that stretches along the Atlantic coast from New Jersey to Georgia.[10] Thirty years ago, this field was tested for gas wells. The company plans to build a injection well seventy miles of the coast from Atlantic City, NJ and pump pressurized, liquid CO2 one mile down into the Hudson Shelf Valley section of sandstone.[9][2]

SCS plans to bury a one-inch-thick steel pipeline, measuring two feet in diameter and encased in concrete, three feet deep under the sea floor for a hundred miles to the injection site.[2] In some places (particularly shipping lanes), the pipeline may be buried seventy to eighty feet into the ocean floor.[2] Beginning at the plant, the pipeline would carry CO2 around the Sandy Hook shore, through the Raritan Bay, and along the coast of New Jersey.[2]

Local residents have raised concerns over the pipeline construction. At a May 24, 2010 panel discussion organized by groups opposed to PurGen One, Heather Saffert of Clean Ocean Action highlighted major risks associated with the pipeline, including disturbance to oceanic habitat, nursery, and migration areas for 300 fish species, 350 bird species, and over 20 combined whale, dolphin, and sea turtle species.[2]

SCS promotes its CCS plan as safer than others because the company hopes that the weight and pressure from the ocean floor would help suppress the stored carbon.[9] Daniel Schrag believes that the carbon would remain there for millions of years because it would be buried below a thick layer of mud and that earthquakes or underwater landslides could cause its release.[9] Tim Bauer (project manager) has said that PurGen employees, along with federal authorities, would be monitoring the pipeline via an electric device placed inside the pipeline.[2] Concerned residents have doubts about the effectiveness of the company's ability to monitor small-scale leaks, and Heather Saffert has expressed that existing technology used for monitoring large leaks is harmful to marine life.[2] There are also worries that the pipeline may not stay buried, increasing the risk of leaks or other damage.[2]

Planned carbon sequestration pipeline superimposed on USGS sea floor image. Source: PurGen One website

PurGen One would produce 4.5 million tons of carbon dioxide per year and there are plans to capture ninety percent of that, leading SCS to claim the plant will have a "net zero CO2 carbon footprint."[10][2] Schrag calculates that the sandstone area may have the capacity for several billion tons.[10] This is seen as a selling point for SCS, who hopes to use the well to store CO2 from other industrial sources in New Jersey.[10] As reported in Forbes, the well could potentially store CO2 from all existing power plants "within 155 miles of the coast from Maryland to Massachusetts for the next 100 years."[10] SCS hopes that national carbon cap and trade legislation will be passed in the near future, causing the pipeline to generate income from other sources of industrial pollution (such as other power plants) that would have to dispose of their CO2 in order meet the cap and trade regulations.[10] SCS could take in $240 million per year for disposing ten million tons of CO2 from other New Jersey sources.[10] There could also be federal money for carbon sequestration projects. The Waxman-Markey Climate Bill has included a ninety-dollar-a-ton credit for such projects.[10] Schrag has said these factors "would make the project wildly profitable, as this project is already profitable [on the books] without any subsidy."[10]

SCS does not plan to create a test project.[13] The company often cites a carbon sequestration project, known as the Sleipner project, off the coast of Norway in the North Sea as a comparable operation.[13] The Sleipner project has been operating since 1996 and buries less than a quarter of the amount SCS plans to sequester.[9] SCS claims the PurGen One plans would be more fool-proof than Sleipner because its well would be deeper, causing there to be more pressure and a lower temperature, which would provide added safety.[13]

When faced with environmentally-based criticisms, SCS uses a statement on CCS written by the Natural Resources Defense Council to legitimize the plant.[13] NRDC's statement endorses the wide scale use of CCS technologies that adhere to standards outlined by the organization.[14] Likewise, SCS attempts to discredit the local opposition, which includes the New Jersey Sierra Club chapter, by saying that the national Sierra Club's policy is generally supportive of CCS.[13] NRDC and the Sierra Club have been criticized for being "Big Green" environmental groups that hava close relationships with industry.

Coal Consumption and Sources

The plant would burn 7,000 pounds of coal per day, or 2.55 million tons per year.[2] The plant plans to burn coal from Pennsylvania, the fourth largest coal-producing state in the United States.[13] The carbon capture and sequestration process could allow for the plant to burn dirtier and cheaper coal.[10] According to the plant's website, SCS is against mountaintop removal (MTR) mining and has made a commitment to source coal from non-MTR sites.[13]


PurGen One is expected to cost between $5.2 and $7 billion if constructed.[2] SCS has said both that the company hopes to raise all of the capital for the plant privately, and that it hopes to receive governmental funds from tax credits and subsidies.[2][10] SCS expects construction will begin in 2012 and does not anticipate the need for large amounts of money until 2011.[9] SCS hopes the national economy will have recovered by then.[9]

SCS anticipates that federal climate legislation will create carbon tax credits, allowing the plant to generate $100 million per year from the credits.[9] The Waxman-Markey Climate Bill would create a ninety-dollar-a-ton credit from CCS projects. Federal money could also come from a government offering of $1.8 billion for coal gasification projects.[10] Tim Bauer of SCS has said that the company "would accept economic development funds if they became available."[2]

In addition to selling electricity, the PurGen One plant is expected to generate additional income from selling fertilizer and disposing carbon from other industrial sources.[9] Carbon disposal fees are expected to run $240 million per year.[10]

Tax payers are expected to provide approximately $200,000,000 per year.



Epicenter of November 30, 2010 earthquake off New Jersey coast. Compared to the CCS pipeline and injection well map above, the epicenter was relatively close to the proposed carbon injection well. Source: United States Geological Survey

On November 30, 2010, a 3.9 magnitude earthquake shook the northeast coast of the United States.[15] The earthquake was the area's largest since 1992, when a 4.7 magnitude quake took place.[15] The epicenter of the 2010 quake was off the coast of New Jersey and New York, located 120 miles east of the Toms River, NJ, 80 miles south of Southampton, Long Island, NY, and 3.7 miles below the surface.[15][16]

Following the earthquake, the Coalition to Stop PurGen issued a press release raising concerns about risks of future earthquake damage to the purposed carbon dioxide pipeline and storage site.[17] The coalition is also concerned that the project could trigger an earthquake, as happened in Ohio in 1987 and 2001.[17] According to Richard Dalton of the New Jersey Geological Survey, "statistically, New Jersey could be overdue (for a magnitude 4-plus quake). Whether it would happen this year or next year or 100 years from now, that's another story."[16]

Public Relations

In an attempt to distance PurGen One from the negative connotations associated with coal-fired power plants, SCS Energy promotes PurGen One as a plant that "will not burn coal," because coal would not simply be burned but rather gasified.[12] However, PurGen One is fueled by coal and therefore, like other coal-gasification plants, is a coal-fired power plant.

PurGen cancelled

On July 26, 2011, President of the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) New Jersey Energy Master Plan (EMP) Lee Solomon said in a public hearing that “There will be no PurGen. That project is not going forward as a coal carbon sequestration plant. The Governor has said ‘no’ to any coal… I say that publicly, and on the record, and so did the Governor.”

But activists say SCS still plans to process coal for energy in Linden and then send a trillion pounds of pressurized, liquid carbon dioxide waste via a 140-mile pipeline through the Raritan Bay and out into the seabed off Atlantic City.

According to New Jersey Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel: “The governor has said that he is opposed to the PurGen project. The question is will he do anything to block it? Under current rules and regulations, they can get all their permits. They’re up for a draft air permit now, but unless the governor passes rules and regulations to block this facility from piping CO2 and pumping it offshore, then this facility could get built no matter what the governor’s opinion is. We would like to see legislation to ban the practice of carbon sequestration off the coast.”[18]

Citizen Groups

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  1. "At a glance", PurGen One website, accessed September 7, 2010.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 Andrew Davison, "Environmental groups oppose power plant", "Suburban", June 3, 2010."
  3. Jane Califf, "How do we get electricity? You don't want to know?", "Bloomfield Life", September 16, 2010.
  4. "NJ BPU President Announces there will be no PurGen Coal Plant" Stop PureGen Coal Plant, Aug. 26, 2011.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 "Stopping the Coal Rush", Sierra Club. (This is a Sierra Club list of new coal plant proposals.)
  6. Wane Perry, "Atlantic City opposes buried CO2 plan from plant" Philly.com, Nov. 11, 2010.
  7. "Stopping the Coal Rush" Sierra Club, accessed November 2011.
  8. Jessica Harrop, "Climate Central shoot in Linden, NJ: Part 1 of 2", Climate Central, November 24, 2009.
  9. 9.00 9.01 9.02 9.03 9.04 9.05 9.06 9.07 9.08 9.09 9.10 9.11 9.12 Kate Galbraith, "A plan for U.S. emissions to be buried under sea", "New York Times", April 17, 2009.
  10. 10.00 10.01 10.02 10.03 10.04 10.05 10.06 10.07 10.08 10.09 10.10 10.11 10.12 10.13 10.14 10.15 10.16 10.17 10.18 10.19 Bruce Upbin, "Bury our carbon at sea", "Forbes", November 3, 2009.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 Eliot Caroom, "Plan underway to clean up Linden's DuPont site", "Star-Ledger", September 2, 2010.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 "About PurGen One", PurGen One website, accessed September 7, 2010.
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 "Frequently asked questions", PurGen One website, accessed September 7, 2010.
  14. "Statement from the Natural Resources Defense Council on Carbon Capture and Sequestration Projects", Natural Resources Defense Council website, accessed September 7, 2010.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Annmarie Fertoli, "Biggest earthquake in 18 years shakes New York region", "WNYC/WQXR News", November 30, 2010.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Todd B. Bates, "Is N.J. due for a big earthquake?", "Asbury Park Press", December 2, 2010.
  17. 17.0 17.1 "For immediate release: New Jersey earthquake shakes plans for coal plant", Stop PurGen Coal Plant website, December 1, 2010.
  18. "NJ BPU President Announces there will be no PurGen Coal Plant" Stop PureGen Coal Plant, Aug. 26, 2011.

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