A life cycle comparison of disposal and beneficial use of coal combustion products in Florida
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- Babbitt, C.W. & Lindner, A.S. Int J Life Cycle Assess (2008) 13: 202. doi:10.1065/lca2007.07.353
Background, Goal, and Scope
Currently, only 40%, or 44.5 million metric tons, of coal combustion products (CCPs) generated in the United States each year by electric utilities are diverted from disposal in landfills or surface impoundments and recycled. Despite promising economic and environmental savings, there has been scant attention devoted to assessing life cycle impacts of CCP disposal and beneficial use. The objective of this paper is to present a life cycle inventory considering two cases of CCP management, including the stages of coal mining and preparation, coal combustion, CCP disposal, and CCP beneficial use. Six beneficial uses were considered: concrete production, structural fills, soil amendments, road construction, blasting grit and roofing granules, and wallboard.
Primary data for raw material inputs and emissions of all stages considered were obtained from surveys and site visits of coal-burning utilities in Florida conducted in 2002, and secondary data were obtained from various published sources and from databases available in SimaPro 5.1 (PRé Consultants, Amersfoort, The Netherlands).
Results revealed that 50 percent of all CCPs produced, or 108 kg per 1,000 kg of coal combusted, are diverted for application in a beneficial use; however, the relative amounts sold by each utility is dependent on the process operating parameters, air emission control devices, and resulting quality of CCP. Diversion of 50% of all CCPs to beneficial use applications yields a decrease in the total raw materials requirements (with the exception of gravel and iron) and most emissions to air, water, and land, as compared to 100% disposal.
The greatest reduction of raw materials was attributed to replacing Portland cement with fly ash, using bottom ash as an aggregate in concrete production and road construction in place of natural materials, and substituting FGD gypsum for natural gypsum in wallboard. The use of fly ash as cementitious material in concrete also promised significant reductions in emissions, particularly the carbon dioxide that would be generated from Portland cement production. Beneficial uses of fly ash and gypsum showed reductions of emissions to water (particularly total dissolved solids) and emissions of metals to land, although these reductions were small compared to simply diverting 50% of all CCPs from landfills or surface impoundments.
This life cycle inventory (LCI) provides the foundation for assessing the impacts of CCP disposal and beneficial use. Beneficial use of CCPs is shown here to yield reductions in raw material requirements and various emissions to all environmental compartments, with potential tangible savings to human health and the environment.
Recommendations and Perspectives
Extension of this life cycle inventory to include impact assessment and sensitivity analysis will enable a determination of whether the savings in emissions reported here actually result in significant improvements in environmental and human health impacts.