Making Ash Disappear

It is unanimously suggested that coal, which has been the dominant source of fuel for power generation in India (almost three-fourths is currently coal-based), will continue to be a critical source for generating baseload electricity. In 2012, approximately 442 million tonnes (Mt) of coal was used to generate 737 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity. Various estimates indicate that electricity generated from coal is expected to grow twofold to threefold by 2030. However, burning coal results in the generation of fly ash, a residual waste product that is harmful for human health and the environment. In 2011–12, 145 Mt1 of fly ash generation was reported in India (CEA 2014a). To put this figure in perspective, the municipal solid waste generated in India in 2012 amounted to 46.5 Mt.

Table 1 provides key statistics regarding the generation and utilisation of fly ash, as reported by the Central Electricity Authority (CEA). It is also estimated that over half of India’s requirement of building stock in 2030 is yet to be built. India is the second-largest producer of cement in the world,2but its per capita consumption remains low—at around 200 kg3— compared to the world’s average. Various growth projections for the cement industry indicate that per capita consumption will increase threefold by 2030. The cement industry utilised 43 Mt of fly ash in the production of Portland Pozzolana Cement (PPC) in 2015. The pozzolanic and hydraulic properties of fly ash enable its use as a substitute for clinker in the production of cement. Approximately 65% of the cement produced in India in 2012 was PPC, with an average blending of fly ash of 27% by weight. With ample availability of fly ash, lower production costs, and functional similarities with Ordinary Portland Cement (OPC), PPC will continue to be the dominant form of cement produced in India in the future.

Table 2 (p 44) describes the share of various products and sectors in fly ash utilisation (FAU) in recent years. As a proportion of the fly ash utilised, over 40% is accounted for by cement production.

The sections that follow describe some of the environmental and human risks posed by fly ash, regulations around its safe disposal, and how certain areas of utilisation may not be the safest ways to handle fly ash.

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