Finding beneficial uses for coal byproducts

Posted: April 1, 2021
coal mine
Courtesy of USDA

A new grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) will support Ohio State researchers seeking beneficial uses for coal combustion residues in the reclamation of abandoned coal-mined lands.

Coal combustion residuals (CCRs), commonly known as coal ash, are produced by coal-fired power plants across the United States and represent a significant amount of industrial byproducts generated each year. CCRs are typically disposed of in ponds and landfills.

Tarunjit Butalia, research associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering and affiliated faculty of the Sustainability Institute at Ohio State, authored one of four project proposals selected for research funding nationwide. Butalia and his collaborators from regulatory agencies and industry partners, will promote the high-volume beneficial use of these harvested coal combustion residues in reclamation of abandoned surface coal mine sites. The DOE will provide approximately $1 million in funding for the two-year project which includes a full-scale demonstration project to be implemented in Ohio.

Tarunjit Butalia at the Conesville Mine reclamation site
Tarunjit Butalia at the Conesville Mine reclamation site near Coshocton, OH (Photo by Jo McCulty)

Working at sites across the eastern and midwestern coal mining regions of the U.S., Butalia's team will harvest coal ash from ash ponds and Flue Gas Desulfurization material from landfills, which is created during the process of reducing sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired boilers.. These materials will, in turn, be utilized in the reclamation of the abandoned surface mine sites.

Butalia was pleased that his research group's approach will improve not one, but two areas affected by the production of CCRs.

“We will be killing two birds with one stone,” he said. “We are proposing to clean out old ash ponds and landfills so their footprint can be returned to productive use and at the same time we are also using the harvested materials to reclaim abandoned coal-mined lands. This is a win-win situation for the public.”

This work is yet another example of the creativity, ingenuity and commitment of Ohio State’s faculty to finding solutions to today’s sustainability, said Kate Bartter, executive director of the Sustainability Institute at Ohio State.

“This work not only will help address the legacy of coal combustion residues in our environment, but it will also flip what is otherwise an environmental negative into a positive input for returning abandoned landscapes into productive use,” she said.

The team, which includes Ohio State collaborators Chin-Min Cheng and Abdollah Shafieezadeh, intends to demonstrate laboratory and bench-scale testing and construction methods that can be applied to a wide variety of ash ponds, closed landfills, and abandoned coal mine sites in the United States. Cheng will lead the environmental monitoring aspects of the work while Shafieezadeh will apply risk-based approaches to the proposed technology.

Butalia foresees a large audience for the data derived from this research. "The results of this project will provide owners, design engineers, and regulatory agencies, specific information about the technical feasibility and probable cost of using these methods for remediation and reclamation," he said.

by Kevin Satterfield, Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering

Category: Research