Monthly Archives: March 2015

Times Have Changed for the Power Industry – or Have They?

The EPA has not designated the coal ash produced while generating electricity a hazardous material, but too many localities have experienced the havoc wreaked on the environment when coal ash and other coal combustion residuals (CCRs) are disposed of in dubious “beneficial” ways, such as becoming loose fill material in other construction projects.

In December 2014, the EPA issued rules requiring power companies to install liners in new CCR landfills and disposal ponds to avoid leakage, and to curb the release of coal ash dust into the air.

However, existing unlined disposal sites still remain open and in use, so it could be years before we see any significant reduction in CCR-related disasters. You’d think the 2008 release of millions of gallons of coal ash sludge into the Tennessee River from the Tennessee Valley Authority, which contaminated the water, destroyed homes and still stands as the worst coal ash disaster in U.S. history, would have convinced the EPA and industry that it’s time for change.

Such loose regulation is unthinkable in the waste industry, which has adhered for years to the waste management hierarchy of “reduce, reuse, recycle” to minimize the volume of waste needing disposal. But the power industry has had no such limits because nothing can interfere with the mandate to produce power.

So if CCR reduction isn’t an option, it’s time for the power industry to consider alternative disposal methods. Coal ash can be recycled into building components such as wallboard and concrete, but the jury’s still out on how safe over time exposure to these materials is. However, the macro-encapsulation solutions that AWT has patented will fully contain coal ash and other CCRs, removing it from the environment indefinitely.

According to the American Coal Ash Association’s most recent available figures, in 2013 about 114.7 million tons of coal combustion products (CCPs) were produced, yet only about 45% (51.4 million tons) were reused.

That leaves a lot of room for improvement.

Instead of accepting the status quo and adding a few no-brainer protective measures without deadlines for implementation, the EPA should get serious about reining in this ongoing threat and compel the power industry to recognize that times have changed. Power companies should start taking a harder look at the viable, economical alternatives available for CCR disposal and maybe borrow some of the methods the waste industry has been using successfully for years.

CCRs and the Waste Management Hierarchy

For years, the U.S. waste industry has adhered to the EPA’s non-hazardous waste management hierarchy, which focuses on the reduction, reuse and recycling of most wastes and demonstrates the key components of the EPA’s Sustainable Materials Management Program (SMM).

To quote the EPA, the SMM “is an effort to protect the environment and conserve resources for future generations through a systems approach that seeks to reduce materials use and their associated environmental impacts over their entire life cycles, starting with extraction of natural resources and product design and ending with decisions on recycling or final disposal.”

Coal combustion residuals (CCRs) are currently considered non-hazardous waste, even if land and water contamination that their “beneficial reuse” has caused in communities on the receiving end calls their harmlessness into question. However, although coal ash is a natural fit in the waste management hierarchy, and the EPA expects the coal industry to play by its rules, the emphasis remains largely on disposal in the most expedient way, however destructive it may prove in the long run. Coal ash producers can say that disposal keeps them within the hierarchy, but it’s the least preferred method.

So, what’s to be done?

This situation could be tackled in a few ways. With more partnerships between the waste industry and CCR producers, more CCRs could go into engineered fill projects that extend landfills’ useful lives. CCRs’ hazardous potential could be nullified using AWT’s patented methods of macro-encapsulation.

Or the coal industry could get serious about shifting its focus to cleaner, renewable forms of energy and reducing CCR production, which is the EPA’s most preferred way of dealing with this problem. The added advantage is that it will prove more economical in the long term.

It’s a matter of changing a longstanding, firmly entrenched tradition of reliance on fossil fuels. But with our environment eroding on so many fronts, we really can no longer consider change in how we deal with CCRs a matter of choice.

Advanced Wall Technologies Explains Environmental, Economic Impacts of CCR Beneficial Reuse in White Paper

Richmond, Va., (March 6, 2015) – Advanced Wall Technologies has released a white paper entitled, “Macroencapsulation: An Economic and Environmental Framework for Using CCRs as Beneficial Reuse,” which explains how coal combustion residuals may be used in embankments, berms, engineered structural fills and other construction applications while preventing harmful water infiltration and the leaching of metals into the environment. It’s a technology particularly useful in the waste and power industries to minimize the environmental impact of doing business.

See Press Release