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Environmental benefits from coal by-product

WESTERN Power is seeking expressions of interest for the purchase of fly-ash from its Collie, Muja and Kwinana power stations in a bid to generate extra cash flow and solve an environmental headache.

Until now, Western Power has been storing up to more than 300,000 tonnes of fly-ash a year in dams.

Western Power spokesman Peter Winner said the cost to the utility of managing and storing the fly-ash ran into hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

While breaking new ground for WA, the fly-ash market is already well developed on the eastern seaboard and in the United States, where it is used as an additive for cement and concrete.

Ash Development Association of Australia CEO Craig Heidrich said ash varied significantly in quality, but normal grade ash could fetch between $50 and $90 a tonne.

In 2000, approximately 12 million tonnes of ash was produced in Australia and New Zealand. However, just 5.5 million tonnes is effectively used each year, with the remainder dumped.

The concrete and cement industry uses around 1.6 million tonnes of fly-ash as an additive. Mr Heidrich said there were substantial reductions in greenhouse gas emissions when the fly-ash was used.

The association also hopes to find new methods of utilising the coal by-products.

More than $250,000 has been ploughed into a project undertaken by the University of WA with the support of the WA Waters and Rivers Commission, the Agricultural Department and the Western Australian Turf Farmers Association. Fly-ash contains retardant properties that can be adopted for use with Perth’s sandy soils. Studies already indicate turf farms that have embraced the project have lifted yields, and water retention has risen by 30 per cent.

Mr Heidrich said the research findings showed that the use of ash materials under prescribed conditions was highly beneficial to water retention, plant growth and nutrient supply, thereby increasing turf farm yields without any discernible uptake of trace metals.

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