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The future of Fly Ash

  • IAS NEXT, Lucknow
  • 15, Feb 2022
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The National Green Tribunal has decided to club eight ongoing cases on fly ash mismanagement and accidents filed between 2013 and 2020.

  • This is a significant acknowledgement of the country’s fly ash crisis and could usher in better regulations to govern such infrastructure. 

Fly Ash Management and Utilisation Mission:

To streamline the monitoring and coordination of all issues regarding the handling and disposal of fly ash in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, the tribunal directed the Centre to constitute a ‘Fly Ash Management and Utilisation Mission’ comprising of secretaries from the ministries of environment, coal and power and the chief secretaries of the two states.

  • The mission’s mandate includes preparation of an action plan based on the findings of the various committees (formed to look into the accidents), including plugging the big gap in storing, handling, management and utilisation of fly ash.
  • The mission will be financed through CSR funds, and also act as an environmental restoration and compensation fund responsible for relief compensation for affected people.

What is Fly Ash?

Popularly known as Flue ash or pulverised fuel ash, it is a coal combustion product.


Composed of the particulates that are driven out of coal-fired boilers together with the flue gases.

  • Depending upon the source and composition of the coal being burned, the components of fly ash vary considerably, but all fly ash includes substantial amounts of silicon dioxide (SiO2), aluminium oxide (Al2O3) and calcium oxide (CaO), the main mineral compounds in coal-bearing rock strata.
  • Minor constituents include: arsenic, beryllium, boron, cadmium, chromium, hexavalent chromium, cobalt, lead, manganese, mercury, molybdenum, selenium, strontium, thallium, and vanadium, along with very small concentrations of dioxins and PAH compounds. It also has unburnt carbon.

Health and environmental hazards:

Toxic heavy metals present: All the heavy metals found in fly ash nickel, cadmium, arsenic, chromium, lead, etc—are toxic in nature. They are minute, poisonous particles accumulate in the respiratory tract, and cause gradual poisoning.

Radiation: For an equal amount of electricity generated, fly ash contains a hundred times more radiation than nuclear waste secured via dry cask or water storage.

Water pollution: The breaching of ash dykes and consequent ash spills occur frequently in India, polluting a large number of water bodies.

Effects on environment: The destruction of mangroves, drastic reduction in crop yields, and the pollution of groundwater in the Rann of Kutch from the ash sludge of adjoining Coal power plants has been well documented.

However, fly ash can be used in the following ways:

  1. Concrete production, as a substitute material for Portland cement, sand.
  2. Fly-ash pellets which can replace normal aggregate in concrete mixture.
  3. Embankments and other structural fills.
  4. Cement clinker production – (as a substitute material for clay).
  5. Stabilization of soft soils.
  6. Road subbase construction.
  7. As aggregate substitute material (e.g. for brick production).
  8. Agricultural uses: soil amendment, fertilizer, cattle feeders, soil stabilization in stock feed yards, and agricultural stakes.
  9. Loose application on rivers to melt ice.
  10. Loose application on roads and parking lots for ice control.