Home / Industry / Energy /  One in two coal-based power plants still flouts fly ash disposal norms

Mumbai: Over half of all coal-fired power plants in India still fall short of the government-set target to fully utilise fly ash, a harmful by-product of the power generation process, according to a report by environment group Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

The government had set December 2017 as the target for power plants to meet fly ash utilisation norms. CSE’s report has found that one in every two power plants still fails to meet the legal requirements.

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Annual fly ash generation from power plants has risen by almost 76% to 226 million tonnes (mt) in 2019-20 from 123 (mt) in 2009-10.

On an average, 35% of fly ash remained unutilised in this decade, leading to its piling up in ash ponds. As per the report, between 2010 and 2020, several major ash dyke breach incidents and cases of unsafe disposal of ash have been reported from many regions.

Legacy ash is also a massive challenge for the sector. The study found that Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Odisha have accumulated the most ash in the last decade due to high generation and poor utilisation rates.

CSE has found that these states together account for over 76% of the total residual ash stocks generated over the last decade. Due to ash overburden, these states also top the list of coal ash accidents and require immediate attention due to the prevailing serious pollution issues near coal power plants.

“Coal being the mainstay of power generation in India, we need to ensure that coal-based thermal power plants are as clean as possible. Only then can we meet the twin challenges of air pollution and climate change. To achieve the 100% utilisation target, power plants need to consistently utilise the new ash they generate annually while clearing the backlog of previous years," said Nivit Kumar Yadav, Programme Director, Industrial Pollution Unit of CSE.

Fly ash can be safely used in the cement sector but its use has hovered around the 25% mark over the past many years. Enhancing fly ash use in cement making will not only solve the issue of waste but will also lead to considerable reduction of greenhouse gas emissions reduction from the sector.

Over the years, the use of fly ash in the construction of highways and roads has witnessed a positive growth. However, fly ash uptake is still marginal when compared to the tremendous development in this sector. Average fly ash use in roads and flyovers has been a meagre 4%and can definitely be enhanced, CSE said.

Besides, there are several logistic, storage, handling and transportation issues that lead to poor utilisation of fly ash in some states. Fly ash needs to be transported to cement plants through rail or road networks. This creates limitations on the immediate utilisation of the ash. Therefore, its effective storage, handling and transportation is a critical aspect towards enhancing fly ash utilisation.

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