ECOBA chief outlines how coal power’s issues impact on construction raw materials

The European Coal Combustion Products Association (ECOBA) have been outlining the knock-on effects pressures on EU coal power are having on the industries dependent on coal’s by-product materials.

Ivan Skidmore, the new President of ECOBAà‚ has delivered a paper on how a decline in coal-fired power generation might impact on the supply of by-products such as coal ash and gypsum and the outlook for combustion products as legislation continues to have effect.
At the recent Ashtrans2015 conference in Copenhagen Skidmore told delegates about how the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, such as hydropower, solar energy, wind and biofuels has impacted on the quantity and quality of coal combustion products (CCPs).

CCPs are mainly utilised as a replacement for natural materials in the building material industry, in civil engineering, in road construction, for construction work in underground coal mining as well as for re-cultivation and restoration purposes in open cast mines.

Most of these products are vital in meeting particular standards and specifications in those industries. They possess technical as well as environmental benefits and are therefore requested on a regular basis. However fly ash production from hard coal and lignite in Europe has from 1993 to 2013 been in decline, reaching a nadir in 2010, before rallying to an extent to 2013.

“Availability is becoming a major problem in some member states and the management of CCPs meeting market needs is a major task for power producers and marketers,” he told the Ashtrans audience, noting that transportation of the materials had grown in importance as legislation continued to have an effect on coal production in particular jurisdictions.

“Cross border transport of coal ash in Europe has been a solution to guarantee availability with seaborne trade coal ash rising to 2.9 tonnes in 2014 from 1.6m tones in 2009.”

In his introductions at the seminar, Skidmore noted that despite more difficult circumstances besetting the industry, coal is still a major fuel for power production in Europe and coal use continues to increase worldwide, but future availability of CCPs remains a market concern in Europe due to the political direction and forecasted energy market development.

“CCPs will (continue to) be available but there will be regional variations in the quantities involved. It is important to address regional availability issues and discuss solutions to safeguard availability. (We have to) encourage efficient use of coal resources and CCP’s at existing and new build plants.”

Legislation such as the Large Combustion Plant Directive (LCPD) have been highly influential in impact with many plants in Europe now forced to retrofit or close. The worldwide recession also led to lower industrial activity and subsequently low energy demand.

In addition there is often a switch to biomass.

“With the increased use of biomass in pure biomass combustion plants the load of coal-fired power plants is reduced. Together with the production by other renewables like wind, solar and hydropower a change from base load to partly peak load production was observed in some countries. This has an impact on the maintenance of the power plants and therefore to production costs. The quality of CCPs is affected too and more attention must be given to CCP production.”

New clean coal technologies for pre- and post-combustion will not have any impact on the resulting CCPs as there is no change in the coal combustion and the desulphurization process, however Skidmore did also note that higher burning temperature in the oxy-fuel process will have an impact on CCP quality.

Despite the changed circumstances for coal in the EU, it remains vital to powering the bloc, even if its share has shrunk. Better planning will see the industries dependent on its materials cope better with the implications but it means clearer strategy in terms of storage and transportation.

“Higher prices of natural gas and oil indices caused by the Russia supply politics keep the pressure on coal fired power plants to run as the main thermal energy supply. So coal remains a major fuel for energy production although the CO2 aims are binding.”

“Processing of ash from direct production as well as from stockpile and cross border transport have to be considered tools for safeguarding availability.”

ECOBA was founded in 1990 by European energy producers to deal with matters related to the usage of construction raw materials from coal. It currently comprises 24 full members from 15 countries across Europe. à‚ ECOBA members represent over 86 per cent of the CCP production in the EU 28 countries.

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