There's more to it: Maximizing the Benefits of Coal Ash Recycling

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With increasing prices and diminishing supplies of minerals and other rare earth elements, one way to reduce the substantial impact of these circumstances to the economy and sustainability is to look for alternative resources. Finding applicable solutions can be difficult, most especially when there is extensive investment required to implement those solutions. Increasing global demand for minerals is becoming a serious drawback, particularly when those minerals are scarce or in conflict regions. In an attempt to recover other elements, coal ash recycling has come to the rescue.

Coal ash is the residue that is left over after the coal is burned. There were many reported cases where coal-combustion power plants have had serious issues with their coal ash disposal. And because of improper disposal, it has resulted in environmental harm. Toxic substances that are discharged from the power plants have in the past done great harm to the environment as well as to the local population.  The inevitable consequences of improper disposal open a lot of opportunities to the authorities to come up with ways on how to turn things around. Recycling coal ash by means of several technological advancements has led to the development of some renewable resources. As a matter of fact, more strategic elements are extracted from coal ash as compared to raw coals.

The process of extracting elements from coal ash is quite an elaborate, complicated, and strenuous process. It undergoes trace element analysis where elements from coal ash are measured then extracted. It also goes through a series of tests to determine inorganic residue. Mineral ore deposits are being tested at this phase of analysis. The results obtained from the testing phase up to creation of a new substance are collected to form a new substance. Every individual metal is purified from a solution using chemical extraction solvents. The analysis method is governed by a series of guidelines and regulations to ensure high quality end-products are manufactured. Since the process involves multiple steps, it is essential to optimize the extraction technique.

Extraction of strategic elements from coal ash is considered beneficial and hazardous at the same time. Paradoxically, numerous waste streams are even generated during the extraction process. Proper waste management must be the next step to avoid any undesirable results. Because of limited information about the toxic effects of strategic materials, less priority is given to safeguard health and the environment.  Monitoring is expected but it doesn’t take priority.

Recycling of coal ash plays an important role in sustaining the inadequate supply of strategic minerals and other elements. The economic viability of coal ash recycling must remain the main focus but we should also take into consideration the environmental effects of the entire recycling process. Stricter regulations and guidelines must be implemented to prevent occupational danger during the recycling stages. Developing a more advanced extraction technology will most certainly be the best solution, and carry great rewards. Furthermore, waste handling measures must be taken into account. Identifying coal ash that has potential concentrations of strategic minerals must also be properly determined.