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25 YEARS OF ECOBA

The 58th General Assembly of ECOBA, the European association for coal combustion products, took place in Madrid on 28 and 29 May 2015. The event also marked the 25th Anniversary of the association’s work promoting the technical and environmental benefits of by-products such as fly ash and furnace bottom ash (FBA).

 

A wide range of topics were discussed in the formal and technical sessions over the two days. This included the development of technical standards, European regulations, environmental issues and production statistics.

 

Ivan Skidmore of Power Minerals Limited, a member company of the UKQAA, was elected as the new president of ECOBA. Angelo Saraber of Vliegasunie was elected as vice president. So congratulations to both Ivan and Angelo and every success in their new roles within ECOBA.

World of Coal Ash 2015 (WOCA) Conference

Nashville, Tennessee, 5 – 7 May 2015

 

This interesting conference was organised by the American Coal Ash Association (ACAA) and the Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER), University of Kentucky and I attended to present a paper and as a delegate.

 

Papers were presented on such diverse topics as the beneficial use of coal construction products (CCP’s) in cement and concrete, regulations, extraction of rare earth elements (REE’s) and agricultural uses. Over 800 delegates attended, with many visitors from outside the USA.

 

Several papers stressed the great potential of extracting fly ash from stockpiles and lagoons, or ponds in US terminology, and processing the material to obtain products for the construction industry. This recovery and beneficial use of fly ash contributes to sustainable construction and would help to maintain the availability of fly ash. A readily available complementary source of fly ash would help to reduce seasonal supply variability.

 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has introduced new regulations to control storage and disposal of CCP’s in the USA. These materials will be controlled under “subtitle D” of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and are considered non-hazardous. Rules exist to ensure the structural stability of storage facilities such as stockpiles and lagoons, with inspection regimes and corrective actions detailed. Groundwater monitoring procedures are also specified. This approach has the advantage of protecting local communities and the environment, without classifying CCP’s as hazardous which would reduce significantly the beneficial use of coal ashes in the USA.

 

A more unusual application for fly ash considered at the conference was as a source of industrial minerals. This ranged from aluminium extraction to obtaining REE’s and other scarce strategic metals. For example, neodymium and dysprosium are critical for the permanent magnets which are used in many modern electronic devices. Within particular ashes, RRE’s may be at high enough concentrations to make extraction worthwhile.

 

Robert Carroll – Technical Director UKQAA

20 May 2015

The future’s bright, the future’s sustainable

As the concrete sector is the largest user of fly ash in the UK, it’s with some interest that the UKQAA read the Concrete Industry’s recent 7th Sustainability Performance Report.

 

The Concrete Industry’s report reviews the progress that has been made to improve sustainability in the concrete industry to date and highlights commitments going forward. It makes for an interesting read.

 

On the whole, it shows the industry is making huge strides to improve its performance, the CO2 associated with concrete manufacture having reduced 22 per cent since 1990. It also highlights how responsible sourcing and resource efficiency are playing key roles in creating a more sustainable sector. This is a great achievement for the concrete industry and very welcome news for the producers and users of fly ash.

 

As a readily available, easily accessible by-product, fly ash is a winning combination – it is both sustainable to source and has low embodied carbon. As the report acknowledges, it can also have a positive influence on the appearance and performance of concrete.  As such, fly ash is becoming an increasingly important part of the sustainable concrete supply chain and as the report highlights, demand for it as an additional cementious material has remained steady in recent years.

 

As the minerals and aggregates market continues to experience change and sources of primary raw aggregates come under pressure, it’s clear that fly ash will have an increasingly important role to play in supplying demand and improving the overall sustainability of building products. Along with this, fly ash has many technical benefits within concrete which are recognised in several product standards.

 

As the Concrete Industry’s report highlights, in 2013 the percentage of additional cementious material such as fly ash as a proportion of the total cementious materials was 28.8 per cent. The target for 2020 is 35 percent. This is an ambitious six per cent increase which aims to reduce reliance on primary or secondary aggregates and increase consumption of fly ash – an already abundant material. With up 50 million tonnes of fly ash already in storage and roughly one third of fresh stock being surplus – the ash industry is well placed to take up the challenge.

 

Ultimately, what these latest figures show is the concrete industry is shifting from total reliance on primary raw materials and continuing to open up to alternative supply streams which are both resource efficient and have low embodied carbon. Combined with its undoubted technical benefits fly ash is an important mainstay of high-quality sustainable concrete.

 

To read the report in more detail, please click the following link: www.sustainableconcrete.org.uk/pdf/MB_7thPerformance%20Report_SCF_2013data.pdf

2014 and the future of ash

2014 was a good year for the construction industry. With investment and demand on the rise, the sector hit the same levels of productivity seen pre-recession. That’s good news and the construction sector is likely to go into 2015 – an election year – with a renewed sense of confidence, but there are challenges.

Material supply, for example, remains a potential problem. Throughout the year the news has been littered with stories about brick shortages and a lack of planning for aggregate extraction that led to supply being unable to meet demand. Coal ash production and supply was hit too, and a sudden drop in gas prices in the summer reduced the UK’s reliance on coal-fired power generation.

Naturally, coal ash production and the complexities of energy generation in the UK are one and the same, and the Government’s aims to diversify and de-carbonise the energy mix will have an impact on future production. However, at the end of 2014, coal power continues to be the single largest source of generation – narrowly beating gas. That’s likely to remain the case until the next generation of power stations come online.

At the UKQAA though, we’re working hard to look at how we can stabilise coal ash supply and 2014 has been an important year in this respect for two reasons.

The first is the work being done at RWE Generation’s now-closed Tilbury Power Station in Essex where Generation Aggregates worked with block manufacturer H+H to recover ash from existing stockpiles for use in aircrete blocks. Through an excavation and screening process on-site, Generation Aggregates has unlocked a stream of supply and allowed H+H access to a previously closed source of material.

We believe the same approach could work elsewhere and unlock significant supplies of fly ash around the country – boosting availability and making it less reliant on power generation. To explore this, we announced a pioneering project with the University of Dundee’s Concrete Technology Unit (CTU) to assess the potential of stockpile ash.

It’s an exciting project and over the next year, we’ll assess how much exists, and determine performance as pozzolanas. We can then establish how to improve quality by developing a process route capable of transforming stockpile ash into EN 450 fly ash for use in concrete.

We can’t control coal-fired power generation or the Government’s plans for a future energy mix, but we can look at how we can use existing material to meet future demand. If successful, we’re confident it could have a huge impact on the sector, so we’re looking forward to a positive 2015.

Coal power on the rise

While 2014’s summer weather might have been better than we’re used to, the ash sector has suffered a perfect storm these past few months. Ash production tends to decrease during the summer months naturally as power demand drops, but an increasingly productive construction sector and the availability of cheaper wholesale gas has exacerbated the situation. The result has been a reduction in the availability of ash – specifically EN 450 conditioned ash for use in concrete and cement.

This situation is very unusual as for the first time in four years gas has overtaken coal in the UK power generating mix. That it happened in June is rarer still and when combined with the warm weather, it’s why coal power has fallen significantly in recent months.

However, circumstances have changed very quickly. A rise in gas prices, the closure of four nuclear power stations for maintenance purposes, and subdued wind generation means coal power is meeting the shortfall in energy production. As the nights draw in and the weather begins to cool, it is likely coal generation will increase further.

In the longer term, there’s still much uncertainty around the future of coal. New gas, nuclear and wind projects are taking longer than expected and a shift in energy policy – perhaps brought about by a new Government in May 2015 – isn’t out of the question. Coal power’s viability, relative cost effectiveness and ability to meet bulk demand may prove critical in the coming years.

For the time being, it’s good news coal power is coming back online. That will help meet ash demand from the construction and engineering sectors and ensure clients and contractors meet their quality, cost and sustainability targets.

If you need any advice or support, please contact us.

Summer availability of fly ash

Several UKQAA members have reported a likely decline in the availability of fly ash in the UK this summer due to a sudden drop in wholesale prices for gas. A decline of fly ash in the summer isn’t unusual – warmer weather and longer days mean less power is consumed than in the winter – but a drop in availability this year will be further affected by cheap gas prices.

We’re expecting this to be the case for much of July and August, and some coal-fired power stations will put in place allocation schemes for EN 450 fly ash supplied as a Type II addition for concrete and composite cements – conditioned ashes for use in other applications remains available. Naturally with the latest ONS statistics showing an increase in construction activity compared with the same period in 2013 and demand for aggregates and raw material also on the rise, the sector will be watching this closely, but we expect levels of production to return to normal at the end of the summer.

That said, conditions in the energy sector can change very quickly as fuel choice is highly dependent on a number of critical factors. Global prices, political decisions and situations, and even sudden changes in the weather can influence the type of fuel we use and its cost. For example, the ongoing situation in Ukraine could have significant impacts on the fuel we use at home in much the same way that a sudden drop in temperature could have an impact on whether we’re heating our homes or not.

UKQAA members continue to invest in the UK supply of high quality ash and ash products and, in particular, how to maintain a ready supply of the material throughout the year, but if you have any questions about the availability of fly ash contact us on 01902 373365 or by emailing us at enquiries@ukqaa.org.uk.

The UKQAA at GreenBuildExpo, Manchester Central

We are off to Manchester today to set up our exhibition stand at GreenBuildExpo – stand no. F44 – if you are visiting the show tomorrow or Thursday why not come along and meet us and may be learn a little more about ash – it would be great to talk to you.

GreenbuildExpo_biglogo2 yc7-8 May 2014, Manchester Central

UKQAA welcomes the 2014 budget

On 19 March, George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer gave his fifth budget – the penultimate budget in the lead up to 2015’s general election. In contrast to the previous four, 2014’s budget showed confidence and tempered optimism that the economy was back on-track, despite some concerns about UK growth over the next two years. The result was a series of measures designed to protect growth over the long-term and no doubt win over some voters now.

There was the news that the Government will cap the UK’s Carbon Price Support rate at £18/tonne from 2016-17 to 2019-20. This is significant as the UK’s energy industry faces some of its toughest challenges since the market was privatised and protecting competitive advantages is crucial if we want to keep the lights on and try to bring ever-rising household bills under control.

An implication to draw from the budget is that the Government remains committed to both retaining coal power generation and investing in low-carbon technology – a position few would oppose. This preserves the long-term objective of a low-carbon energy market, but means consumers won’t be punished now to fund new technology. It’s also good news for producers, specifiers and users of quality fly ash and furnace bottom ash (FBA), which remains vital to a construction sector recovery. With growth accelerating, material supply must keep pace with demand and the ready availability of these established industry materials is essential. Anything that builds the sector’s confidence is therefore welcome. While it may not have been one of the Chancellor’s key objectives, helping to maintain fly ash and FBA supply is excellent news for the UKQAA, its members and most importantly consumers of ash products across the UK, who can look forward to a sustained supply of quality products for many years to come.

Welcome to our new website!

As you’ll see, we’ve been working hard on redesigning and restructuring the format of our website to give you the fastest way to access the information you need.

As well as refreshing the content, we’ve tied in our social media activity and launched a new blog so that you can easily access all the latest news, views and research on anything to do with the production and use of coal ash. Over the coming weeks and months, be sure to keep checking back as we continue to update our information and provide the latest statistics in insight into the industry – including dates for your diary.

If you’re already a member, we will be issuing new log in details to access the Members Area and view the latest committee information, meeting notes, government statistics and annual reports. If you’d like to become a member, please visit our Members page to find out more about the different levels of membership we offer.

We welcome you to have a browse of the new website and see what you think. If you’ve got any feedback or would like any further information, please get in touch via our contact form.