Geochemistry of leachates from coal ash
The combustion of coal around the world for power generation produces huge volumes of fly ash. In Europe alone this amounted to about 40 Mt in 2000 of which less than 50% was utilized. The waste ends in lagoons, ash mounds, and landfill sites. Coal ashes have high concentrations of many trace elements, some of which are of environmental concern. Although the origin of elements in coals is not considered in this chapter, other aspects of the geochemistry are, and in particular the location of elements within the coal as this influences the behaviour of elements during combustion. During combustion many elements are volatile and are concentrated on the surfaces of the ash particles. Analyses of input coal and combustion residues from Eggborough power station (UK) demonstrate retention of the majority of elements in the solid combustion products, and analyses of size-fractionated fly ash have enabled the percentage surface association to be calculated, which for elements such as As and Mo is considerable. A consideration of the general leaching behaviour leads to the conclusion that it is the surface-associated elements that are most susceptible to leaching in the aqeous environment. The pH is an important control on trace element mobility in water, and in leachates from fly ash ranges from 3.3 to 12.3. High-sulphur coals generate acidic leachates, but not exclusively as the laboratory and field data demonstrate in case studies on UK coals. Batch and column leaching tests on fly ashes are reviewed and data presented for fresh fly ash and weathered fly ashes from two UK mounds dating back 17 and 40 years. The weathered ashes do have lower leachate concentrations than the fresh ash, but in spite of their ages they would not be considered to be inert. The batch leaching tests are of value in simulating high liquid-to-solid ratios encountered in ash lagoons, whereas the column leaching tests relate more closely to ash mounds. Finally, the results of field studies are reviewed and data presented for samples from boreholes in the two ash mounds. Analyses of the ash and extracted porewaters demonstrate depth-related changes due to reaction of the ash with the infiltrating water and whether or not equilibrium was established. Calculations demonstrate that the porewaters achieve saturation with respect to gypsum at depth in the boreholes. Infiltration over the years has led to detectable changes in the concentrations of some of the major elements in the bulk ash, such as Ca, and this enables realistic infiltration rates to be calculated. However, there are not comparable changes in the concentrations of the trace elements in the ash because the rate at which elements are being removed in solution is not sufficiently great.
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This book provides incentives for further development of sustainable fuel cycles through a novel and interdisciplinary approach to an Earth science-related topic. The main focus is on geochemical concepts in immobilizing, isolating or neutralizing waste derived from energy production and consumption. The book also addresses the issue of using some types of energy-derived waste as alternative raw materials. Moreover, it highlights research on how certain wastes can be used for energy production, an increasingly important aspect of modern integrated waste management strategies. The main objectives are to: (a) identify the most serious environmental problems related to various types of power generation and associated waste accumulation; (b) present strategies, based on natural analogue materials, for the immobilization of toxic and radioactive waste components through mineralogical barriers; (c) discuss modern procedures for reuse of waste or certain waste components; and (d) review the importance of geochemical modelling in describing and predicting the interaction between waste and the environment.