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Fly Ash Utlization : From Boon to Bane

Pankaj Kumar Verma, CPES

Central Electricity Authority, Ministry of Power, New Delhi, India

Pankaj Kumar Sangwan, CPES

Central Electricity Authority, Ministry of Power, New Delhi, India

Fly ash, environment, electricity, pollution

One form of energy among others i.e. Electricity has become a part of modern life and one cannot imagine a
world without it. Out of various sources of electricity, coal is a major source and contributing around 80% of power
generation in India. Coal burning produces a large quantity of non-combustible residue i.e. fly ash. Fly ash is a
major source of pollution, worse in Indian context as Indian subcontinent coal is of low grade with ash content of
the order of 30 - 45 % .It is major source of air pollution as fly ash which is fine in nature found presence in the air
in SPM form. Unutilized fly ash is dumped in the ash dyke which is huge area and makes the complete area
barren resulting into land pollution. Some of toxic metals found in coal remain into fly ash and when this ash is
dumped, some of these toxic metals leach into ground water resulting into ground water pollution. These all
pollutions result into climate change. Hence complete utilization of fly ash becomes important. In this article, a
multi-pronged strategy is discussed for complete utilization of fly ash for pollution mitigation and to make it an
economic opportunity. The aim is to create awareness among fly ash producers, consumers & people at large
and to bring them at a common platform of understanding on the issue. Innovative methods like Fly ash Park, new
transportation system to transport fly ash and other various potential utilization areas are discussed..

Electricity is unarguably one of the most important blessings that science has bestowed on
humankind. It has also become a part of modern life and one cannot imagine a world without it. There
are various sources available for electricity generation like thermal, hydro, biomass, solar and wind
energy. Coal is a major and traditional source of fuel for generation of electricity across the world. In
India, 80% of power requirement is being met by coal-based units located all over the country. Total
Installed Capacity in the country, as on 31.08.2017, is 329 GW out of which the coal/ lignite based
power is 193 GW.

Coal burning produces a large quantity of non-combustible residue containing bottom ash and fly ash.
Bottom Ash is the ash collected at the bottom of boiler while Fly Ash is the fine powder transported by
the flue gases collected at Electro-Static Precipitator. Bottom ash and Fly ash are collectively referred
as ‘fly ash’ for all practical purposes. Fly ash is a major source of pollution, worse in Indian context as
Indian subcontinent coal is of low grade with ash content of the order of 30 - 45 % compare to
imported coal, with ash content 10-15%. Central Electricity Authority (CEA) has been monitoring the
Fly Ash generation and its utilization in the country since 1996-97 and reported that 176 million
tonnes(MT) of ash was generated by coal based units in the country during 2015-16 out of which,
around 61% could be effectively utilized. Further for the first half of the year 2016-17, CEA has
reported fly ash utilization of around 58%.

Fly ash is a major source of air pollution. Unutilized fly ash is dumped in the ash dykes. This dumped
fly ash is transported by speedy wind into the air. As it is fine in size, it gets suspended in the air as
SPM. Also, these dykes cover a large area and make the complete area barren resulting into land
pollution. Coal contains some of toxic metals. Some of these toxic metals found in coal remain into fly
ash. Few of these toxic metals leach and infiltrate through surface water into ground water resulting
into ground water pollution. Honourable Supreme Court, in the case of ‘Subhash Kumar vs. State of
Bihar and Ors.’, recognized the right to “wholesome environment” as a basic right and the apex court
held that “the right to life under Article 21 as enshrined in our Constitution includes the right to enjoy
unpolluted air and water”. Thus, it is necessary to find sustainable solutions to dispose/utilize fly ash
for mitigating pollution and ultimately preventing climate change. In this paper, a multi-pronged
strategy is discussed for complete utilization of fly ash to make it an economic opportunity and for
pollution mitigation. The aim is to create awareness among fly ash producers, consumers & people at
large and to bring them at a common platform of understanding on this issue of utmost importance.

Earlier, Ash produced by thermal power plants was invariably considered as hazardous waste but now
days it is considered as proven resource for many applications in construction industries and is
currently being utilized in manufacturing of Portland Pozzolana Cement (PPC), fly ash bricks/ blocks/
tiles construction, road and flyover embankment, reclamation of low lying area, Ash dyke raising, Mine
filling, in dams, in concrete and agriculture etc.

Govt. of India has taken various initiatives like Fly Ash Mission to provide clean environment to the
citizens. Fly Ash Mission, a technology project in mission mode was commissioned during 1994 jointly
by Department of Science & Technology (DST), Ministry of Power (MoP) and Ministry of Environment
& Forests (MoEF) with DST as nodal agency. The mission was set up to promote research in the area
of fly ash utilization so that fly ash could be gainfully utilized instead of its disposal in ash ponds. Also,
Ministry of Environment Forest & Climate Changes (MoEF&CC) issued various notifications, from time
to time, under The Environmental (Protection) Rules, 1986. First Notification was issued on 14th
September, 1999 which was subsequently amended in year 2003, 2009 and 2016 vide Notifications
dated 27th August, 2003; 3rd November, 2009 and 25th January, 2016 respectively. The amendment
Notification of year 2009 prescribes the target of 100% Fly Ash utilization in a phased manner within
five (05) years. However, full utilization could not take place due to various factors. Therefore, the
deadline was further extended to December 2017.

Despite not so lucrative result of present fly ash utilization Indian Power industry has travelled from
10% fly ash utilization in 1996-97 to around 61% in 2015-16. Collective efforts made by all
stakeholders involving various government agencies in the past have resulted into the jump in
utilization of fly ash from meager 6.64 MT in 1996-97 to a level of 107.77 MT in 2015-16. The graph
with fly ash generation as well as utilization has been shown in figure-1.

180 Fly Ash Generation (in MT)
Fly Ash Utilization (in MT)
40 Utilization (in %)
1996-97 2015-16

Figure 1 : Fly ash generation and utilization trend

 The amount collected from the sale of fly ash and fly ash based products by coal/ lignite based
thermal power plants or their subsidiaries or sister-concern units should be kept in a separate
account head and shall be utilized only for development of infrastructure or facilities or promotion
and facilitation activities for use of fly ash until 100 % fly ash utilization level is achieved.
 No person shall within a radius of 100 kms from coal/ lignite based power plant manufacture clay
bricks or tiles or blocks for use in construction activities without mixing at least 25% ash with soil
on weight to weight basis.
 Every construction agency engaged in the construction of buildings within a radius of 300 kms
from the plant shall use only fly ash based products such as cement, concrete, fly ash bricks, tiles,
blocks or any combination of these for construction in every construction project. It shall be the
responsibility of the agencies either undertaking construction or approving the design or both to
ensure compliance of the above.
 No agency, person or organization shall, within a radius of 300 kms of the thermal power plant,
undertake construction or approve design for construction of roads or flyover embankments with
top soil; undertake or approve or allow reclamation and compaction of low lying areas with soil;
only fly ash shall be used for compaction and reclamation.
 Soil required for top or side covers of embankments of roads or flyovers shall be excavated from
the embankment site and if not possible to do so only the minimum quantity of soil is required for
the purpose shall be excavated from soil borrow area. Voids created at soil borrow area shall be
filled up with ash with proper compaction and covered with top soil kept separately.
 No agency/person shall, within a radius of 50 kms (by road) from a coal or lignite based thermal
power plant, undertake or approve stowing of mines without using at least 25% of fly ash on
weight to weight basis.
 The central & state govt. agencies and the management of the thermal power plants shall facilitate
in making available land, electricity and water for manufacturing activities and provide access to
the ash lifting area for promoting and setting up of ash based production units in the proximity of
area where ash is generated by the power plant.
 The cost of transportation of ash, for road construction projects or for manufacturing of ash based
products or use as soil conditioner in agriculture activity within a radius of 100 kms from a coal or
lignite based thermal power plant, shall be borne by such coal or lignite based thermal power plant
and cost of transportation beyond the radius of 100 kms and upto 300 kms shall be shared equally
between the user and the plant. Further, the plants shall within a radius of 300 kms bear the cost
of transportation of ash to the site of the road construction projects under Pradhan Mantri Gramin
Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) and asset creation programme of Govt. involving construction of
buildings, road, dams and embankment.
 The concerned authority shall ensure mandatory use of ash based bricks or products in all
government schemes or programmes e.g. MNREGA, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, Urban and Rural
Housing Schemes, where built up area is more than 1000 sq ft and in infrastructure construction
including buildings in designated industrial estates or parks or Special Economic Zone (SEZ).


To achieve the 100% utilization target, there have been some major issues like transportation,
quality control of ash based products, infrastructure, coordination, awareness etc. Utilization of fly
ash generated by plants which are closer to load centre, also fly ash consumption centre, is better
than pit head plants because transportation of fly ash to distant location is a primary concern.
Also, it is observed that pit head plants have been reluctant to share the burden of high cost of
transportation owing to long distances. Hence, sincere efforts are required to develop some
mechanism to deal with the transportation bottlenecks. Traditionally, the ash is transported
primarily mainly by road. Transportation through the existing rail network is a promising solution
but loading and unloading has been technological hurdle. In this direction, a successful trial run
was carried out recently in april 2017 where one 60 tonnes BTAP (Bogie Tanker car for Alumina
Powder)wagon was loaded within six minutes at Shaktinagar Railway Station (NTPC Rihand) and
successfully unloaded at M/s Prism Cement, Satna in bunker in 8-9 minutes. This brings optimism
towards diversifying ways and means for effective transportation of fly ash.

In Clay brick manufacturing process, approx. 454 million cubic metre precious top soil is being
used in india which causes degradation of prime agriculture land. According to Fly-ash Bricks and
Blocks Manufacturers' Federation (Fabmafed), around 240 billion red bricks are produced annually
which generates around 90 MT of CO2 and high levels of Suspended Particulate Matters (SPM)
including PM 2.5 and PM 10 in the vicinity. These should be replaced by fly ash bricks to the
extent possible. It is generally felt that bricks made of fly ash are of inferior quality. For quality
improvements in brick manufacturing, BIS standards for fly ash bricks are under issue. Also,
incentivising MSME can be a breakthrough for investment in higher capacity machineries to
enhance the quality of bricks made of fly ash.

One of the important reasons for low utilization is the activities related to fly ash utilization are
being undertaken in scattered manner. To overcome this, an ecosystem needs to be develop
where all the related facilities should exist. Ash park models like Ash Parks/ Ash terminals at
Chandrapur, Maharashtra and Angul, Odisha are classic examples which can be replicated in the
states where coal based units are located. A typical Fly Ash Park may accommodate common
facilities for Transportation/ siding facility (Rail & Road), fly ash classifiers, Sand processor unit,
testing facility, storage silos, Training centre, product manufacturing units, warehouse for storage
of finished products, Marketing and R&D support, certification, etc. Products planned to be
manufactured in the fly ash park are Fly ash bricks, Tiles, Blocks, Hollow blocks, Reactive silica,
processed fly ash for export, Ready mixed concrete, Concrete pipes/ floor tiles, roofing tiles/
sheets, ready mixed mortar, wall panels etc. The infrastructure will be shared by all stakeholders
on Pooled handling facilities and bulk transportation by Rail would reduce freight charges and
thereby making manufacturing operations economically viable. In addition, we would be
immensely benefitted in term of increased employment generation, economies of scale due to
shared infrastructures and Quality improvements.

NTPC Limited has constructed an ash mound with fly ash produced by its coal based power plant
at Dadri in NCR and the filled ash dyke of NTPC’s thermal power stations at Korba. The ash
mound at Dadri and eco-rehabilitation of ash dyke at Korba are helping in carbon sequestration in
addition to complete restoration of ecology and other benefits. Such innovative approach can be
mimicked by other utilities.

Fly ash utilization has different domains and falls under different departments/ organizations.
Hence improved and sustained coordination with these departments/ organizations is need of the
hour. Road, Transport & Highways sector has immense potential to utilize the fly ash in NHAI/
PMGSY/ State Government Road Projects across the country. Similarly, Construction sector
should be encouraged by amending the building by laws to increase the use of bricks, cement
made of fly ash in building construction. Special focus should be given on govt. rural and urban
housing schemes like Pradhan Mantri Awaas Yojna (Grameen), Housing for All, etc. for use of fly
ash based products. Interestingly, wall constructed with fly ash has low thermal conductivity,
hence, would be energy efficient resulting into lower electricity consumption. Road and building
construction agencies should be encouraged to have a special clause in the Detailed Project
Report (DPR) regarding ash utilization. In addition, to stow the closed mines, mining corporations
like Coal India should declare their mines closure plans in advance so as to enable the power
plants to plan the supply.

GST council has decided the tax rate of 12% for fly ash bricks. The council may consider lowering
it to 5% or may exempt fly ash products, manufacturing equipment from GST. Besides this,
incentivizing the utilization of fly ash based building products like brick, blocks and tiles to attract
real estate developers, builder and public at large would also help in increased demand.

A fly Ash Mission 2.0 can be thought about where DST, CSIR, IITs, CPRI and other leading
research institutes join hands to create an environment to boost the research activities in the area.
One of the research focuses may be to study the use of fly ash as soil conditioner in agriculture
sector to enhance the fertility of the soil. Hence, in this regard, research should be conducted by
agricultural R&D organizations like ICAR, Agricultural Universities, etc.

In modern business world, awareness plays an important role to establish connect between the
buyer and seller. A sustained awareness campaign will bridge link between consumer and
producers and demand for ash can increase. Awareness through means of modern modes of
communication like TV, Radio, social media and other training programme/ workshops would lead
to information dissemination among people for use of fly ash based products and increased
investment in this area. Myths like the quality of bricks made by fly ash are of inherently inferior
strength from that of red bricks would be busted in the process. An award mechanism for
felicitation of plants and fly ash utilizing agencies would help in improved motivation.

Ash users don’t have the real time data for ash availability. Users are generally not aware of
location and source from where they can buy ash for their use. A mobile based application and
web based portal is being developed by Ministry of Power which would show real time data for
Ash stock, utilized ash etc. at each plant. Location, annual production as well as utilization of each
Plant would be displayed on map. The data needs to be uploaded electronically by the plant
operator on a monthly basis. This will depict the quantum of fly ash physically available in the
country and the sectors, which are making use of the fly ash. Agencies like District Rural
Development Agency, NHAI etc. can see the real time data online and get to know the potential of
ash production in nearby plants and they can plan their requirement in advance.

These methods along with some more innovation can bring us closer to our goal of complete
utilization of fly ash to save the over stressed precious land, degrading environment and finally
preventing climate change. Current scenario depicts that longer strides and concerted efforts from
all stakeholders are required more than ever.

Report on Fly Ash Generation at Coal/Lignite based Thermal Power Stations and its utilization in the country
for the year 2015-16 by central Electricity Authority, October 2016
Rajiv Sinha (July 1999): Technology: Flyash disposal and utilization The Indian Scenario, Directions, the IIT
Kanpur Newsletter, Vol 2 No. 4