Several regional shortages of fly ash that occurred during the winter of 2015-16 helped contribute to the rising price of concrete, say some concrete producers who took the 2016 TCP Survey. The circumstances surrounding the shortages caused concrete construction professionals to question the future of coal as well as its byproduct.

This latest shortage was a result of a perfect storm of a mild winter, lower natural gas prices, and coal plant shutdowns due to new environmental regulations, all of which resulted in less coal used to generate electricity, according to the American Coal Ash Association (ACAA). For some producers, the shortage means using straight cement mixes, which increases costs.

Thomas Adams, executive director of ACAA, is confident that fly ash’s future is secure. “It’s doubtful that natural gas prices will stay this low forever. As natural gas prices creep up, coal will be dispatched at a higher rate.”

He also confirmed during a June 2016 webinar with the American Road and Transportation Builders Association that the recent wave of coal plant closings is near its end, with the remaining coal plants well-equipped to meet environmental regulations. In fact, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects 643 million to 850 million tons of coal consumption in 2040.

Also, programs are being implemented to reclaim unused fly ash from landfills and ponds. Headwaters Resources, which supplies fly ash to the construction industry, is one such company developing strategies to reclaim and store fly ash. In a recent third-quarter earnings report, Headwaters stated its intent to have these strategies in operation and contributing to 2017 fly ash volumes in the range of 6.1 to 6.5 million tons, a 9% to 20% increase over the company’s 2016 projected volumes.

The bottom line, says Adams, is coal—and fly ash—is not going away.

Below: Tom Adams of the American Coal Ash Association sits down with Concrete Construction editor Bill Palmer at CC Live during 2015 World of Concrete.