Using coal to generate electricity produces ash, and this has been a problem.
Coal ash has most often ended up in surface compounds, or storage areas.
Coal ash is now regulated by the EPA, which says, from its web site, “Coal ash contains contaminants like mercury, cadmium and arsenic. Without proper management, these contaminants can pollute waterways, ground water, drinking water, and the air.”
Recently, two coal ash or slurry containment structures have collapsed, allowing large amounts of coal ash to enter rivers and streams.
Environmentalists have long claimed that coal ash was another reason to do away with coal-fired power plants.
No doubt, there are situations where coal ash has created problems.
But coal is an important source of energy.
Coal-fired power plants will be an important source of electricity for decades to come, even with the advent of low-cost natural gas as the result of fracking.
The EIA projects that coal will produce 35% of US electricity production in 2040.
With this in mind, its worth examining how coal-ash can be used beneficially rather than having it accumulate in storage ponds or land fills.
Approximately 130 million tons of ash, i.e., coal combustion products (CCP), were produced in the United States in 2014, up from 115 million tons in 2013.
(CCP includes coal ash, fly ash and fluidized bed combustion ash. Coal ash, as used in this article, refers to all three.)
At the same time, 62.4 million tons were used beneficially in 2014, up from 51 million tons in 2013.
Until 2014, the amount of coal ash being used beneficially had decreased each year since 2008. The reduction in the quantity of coal ash being used beneficially was probably due to concerns about whether the EPA would establish coal ash as a hazardous material.
When the EPA did not establish coal ash as a hazardous material in December 2014, it revived the beneficial use of coal ash, so there should be more coal ash being used in suitable products in the future.
Currently, there are two important uses of coal ash: It is being used in the manufacture of wall board and in concrete.
Approximately 40% of the wall board produced in the United State uses coal ash, while coal ash increases the durability of concrete.
Other potential uses for coal ash include.
- Roofing materials
The “EPA encourages the beneficial use of coal ash in an appropriate and protective manner, because this practice can produce positive environmental, economic, and product benefits.”
Coal ash can become a benefit rather than an impediment to using coal-fired power plants.
Watch for my new book, which will be available in January.
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