Last week I attended the annual meeting of the American Coal Ash Association (ACAA) in Indianapolis. I was the first speaker--updating the audience on the new (digital) world of communicating with the construction industry. Part of my message was the drastic changes the media world is undergoing and what a difficult time it has been adjusting to a new reality.
But I soon felt like a whiner with my measly complaints after the next few speakers talked about the flood of environmental regulations they are subjected to, both at power plants and in the handling of ash, the beating the coal industry is taking from cheap natural gas, and how all that is leading to the closure of both plants and ash ponds. One person told me that rail shipments of coal are down 30% over the past few years. If no one burns coal, there's not going to be much ash!
I wrote a blog last winter where I stated (based on ACAA data) that there is plenty of fly ash available for the future. At concrete contractor meetings this spring, however, I was advised that in some parts of the country, fly ash is not available for any price. The fly ash folks claim that's due to the perfect storm of a warm winter (less coal was used), the closure of some plants, the very low cost of natural gas leading to heavier use for power generation, and the uncertain future of environmental regulations. They continue to insist however, that there is an adequate supply of fly ash for the near future, although some of it may need to be shipped and some may need to be processed to make it acceptable for concrete use.
Using fly ash in concrete provides many benefits beyond the green credits. If fly ash is not available we may need to look to other pozzolans, such as metakaolin and other natural pozzolanic materials to get the increased performance we need in our mixes. Nothing's ever easy!