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Remember Coal Ash Recycling’s Contributions This Earth Day

Today is “Earth Day” in celebrations across the world – and a good time to remember the contributions that coal ash recycling makes in improving our environment.

It’s a fact that almost half of America’s electricity is generated by burning coal. That figure is not likely to change much in the future. Because Americans continue to consume more electricity every year, renewable energy sources will do well just to keep up with increases in demand. The U.S. Department of Energy predicts that in 2030, we will actually generate 19 percent more electricity from coal than we did in 2007.

Generating that much electricity produces large volumes of coal ash — solid materials left over from the combustion process. According to the American Coal Ash Association, about 136 million tons of this material was produced in 2008. The good news is that over 44 percent of it was recycled rather than disposed.

There are many good reasons to view coal ash as a resource, rather than a waste. Recycling it conserves natural resources and saves energy. In some cases, products made with coal ash perform better than products made without it.

For instance, coal ash makes concrete stronger and more durable. It also reduces the need to manufacture cement, resulting in significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Other byproducts of coal combustion – such as synthetic gypsum produced by pollution control equipment – are also used safely and efficiently in a variety of building materials.

The Recycled Materials Resource Center - which is affiliated with the University of New Hampshire and the University of Wisconsin at Madison - used the life cycle assessment approach to quantify the environmental and economic benefits of using coal ash in construction applications. They considered energy use, water use, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with using coal ash and virgin mined material, as well as avoided landfill space. Results showed that in 2007 alone, beneficial use of coal ash saved:

  • 159 trillion BTUs in energy use
  • 10.9 million tons of CO2 release
  • 32 billion gallons of water use
  • $5 billion - $10 billion

That’s good news for our world this Earth Day and every other day of the year.


Posted by: on: Apr 22, 2010 @ 12:33