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The Coal Ash Industry - A Balanced View

The Coal Ash Industry - A Balanced View

April 17th, 2015, was a landmark day for the coal ash industry: the EPA’s final ruling on the Disposal of Coal Combustion Residuals (CCR) for electric utilities was published in the Federal Register. Its impact was immediately felt by owners/operators of coal-fired power plants and continues to this day. Market conditions for the coal industry have become increasingly difficult as coal consumption continues to fall and hundreds of coal-fired generation units have either been shut down or are due for planned retirement. 

While NGOs and community groups have taken issue with the coal industry in general, and in particular with respect to carbon emissions and coal ash handling, it is vital to remember that this is a triple bottom line issue.  The issues being addressed today were accumulated over decades of power plant operations, and today industry is dealing with the “new normal”. Despite the uncertainty and upheaval that change inevitably causes, there’s a silver lining for those who seek it.

An innovative community of service providers including consultants, engineers, beneficiation companies, material handlers, ash marketers, and hardware providers has joined forces to seek out ways to extract and maximize opportunities hidden within the system.

In this continuously evolving market, industry players must keep their fingers on the pulse to know what actions to take and when. Business intelligence empowers you to see what lies ahead and make smarter decisions that benefit both you and your customers. 



Our Dynamic Regulatory Environment

Coal Ash Regulatory Environment

The impact of the CCR Rule on the industry has been two-fold: first, landfill closures mean that managing coal ash has become a challenge while compliance requires environmental obligations to be considered. Owner/operators coming into conflict with the CCR rules face at least two primary challenges to keeping CCR units (existing landfills and surface impoundments) open: location restrictions and groundwater protection standard exceedance.

Concerning location restrictions, five criteria drive the compliance program with specific timeframes. CCR Units cannot be:

  1. Located within five feet of the uppermost aquifer
  2. Situated within a wetland
  3. Located in fault areas
  4. Situated within an active seismic zone, or
  5. Located within unstable areas 

Referring to these criteria by number, restrictions #2 through #5 would have lead to a CCR Unit closure by April 17, 2019, earlier this year. Restriction #1 has an action date of October 31, 2020, to cease operations and initiate shutdown. 

Recent regulations continue to impact the industry. In a draft policy document issued as recently as November 4th, 2019, the EPA has proposed regulations against allowing unlined impoundments to continue receiving coal ash unless they leak, and also classifying “clay-lined” impoundments as lined, thereby allowing such units to operate indefinitely. The EPA is also proposing to set a revised date by which unlined surface impoundments must stop receiving waste and initiate closure.

These regulations are “self-implementing,” requiring facilities to comply with them without any action by a regulatory agency. Facilities are required to provide comprehensive and regular disclosure to states and communities to enable them to monitor and oversee these requirements.

Citizens, including the state and NGOs perform a crucial role in the implementation and enforcement of this rule. The EPA has designed recordkeeping and Internet posting requirements to help ensure transparency and to assist citizens in playing that role. Consequently, owners/operators publish the required information and updates on their websites. 

There is a wealth of industry information hidden in the data published by these owners and operators. At Firmographs™, we’ve undertaken the task of consolidating this data from owner/operator websites across the industry, mining hundreds of data attributes for insights. Every month, we publish this curated data in an easy-to-navigate database.

Estimating Onsite Coal Ash, Water, and Surface Areas

Estimating Onsite Coal Ash

The data and insights that business intelligence provides can be helpful in many ways. Ash marketers, for example, routinely track how much coal ash is generated every year. Organizations that are involved in beneficial use are interested in where the material is located, and how much there is. 

Industry players also need to know the amount of water in surface impoundments, especially those involved in dewatering and water treatment. Ash Mart™ also provides data and visualizations related to groundwater sources which can help organizations interested in the potential groundwater contamination near a site. 

FirmoGraphs’ Ash Mart™ helps industry participants quickly find surface area data which is critical in both estimating costs in case of CCP closure or assessing the potential of a closed site. Organizations that provide final cover solutions such as landfill liners will also find this data useful to understand surface area requirements.

Opportunities for Innovation

Opportunities for Innovation

Coal combustion products (CCPs) such as fly ash have long been used as an EPA-approved replacement for portland cement in concrete, and are often transported to cement kilns for the purpose. To evaluate transportation options to these kilns, FirmoGraphs’ Ash Mart™ has curated data related to approved coal ash marketers by state DOTs, including information related to the plant site and the marketing company. When combined with a state-of-the-art mapping tool, Ash Mart™ can help users find the best transportation routes via truck, barge or train.

What opportunities are available when a CCR unit has been closed? Whether the unit is being clean-closed, i.e., all that coal ash has been dug out or closed by removal of the CCP, there are innovative final cover solutions are available. 

Organizations such as Profile Products offer advanced solutions that prevent sediment pollution through erosion which is often an inherent part of traditional soil covers. These solutions while being aesthetically pleasing, not only help keep water out of the residue, but also ensure there’s no contamination in nearby water sources. They also help reduce the amount of external soil that would need to be brought onsite.

And that’s not all: closed CCR units also present attractive opportunities to consider within the renewables sector, specifically solar power generated through photovoltaic (PV) arrays. With the average unit ranging between 50 to 120 acres, these units can receive a new lease of life as solar farms generating at least 10 MW, if not more. The distinctive benefit these CCR-based solar farms offer is that they've already served by power transmission, unlike a greenfield site. Plus these sites have already been zoned for industrial use so generating community support is less likely to be a problem.

The Role of Market Data Analytics

The Role of Market Data Analytics

At FirmoGraphs, we’ve spent thousands of person-hours to curate and maintain the data so that you don’t need to. 

All of this data is provided within the leading-edge, flexible BI platform, Qlik Sense. Qlik Sense easily integrates with other sources, so you can visualize all of your data in one place.

BI tools and market data analytics have transformed the industry. Hidden behind their easy-to-use and interactive interfaces are powerful data processing capabilities that help you do more with data.  Find new stories, visualize data in different ways, from simple tables and pie charts to more sophisticated statistical analyses, and ultimately, make better decisions.

Innovative Service Providers

seeing the big opportunity

FirmoGraphs is proud to serve companies that have innovative solutions for the coal ash industry.

card aecom AECOM’s work in the power industry ranges from permitting, strategy and planning through engineering, procurement, construction, and startup for new and old coal ash disposal, remediation of MGP sites, new generating plants, renewable energy, transmission and distribution including microgrids, to plant decommissioning.
FlyAshDirect2 FlyAshDirect, a service of Waste Management, creates byproduct utilization opportunities for the power generation industry by developing markets for fly ash and synthetic gypsum resources. It serves the needs of coal-fired power plants and the building products industry by developing reliable markets for fly ash and other valuable coal combustion by-products (CCPs).
sefa-logo-2 Southeastern Fly Ash Company (SEFA) was founded in April 1976, with the goal to recycle fly ash for use in the construction industry. Today, SEFA oversees end-to-end processes in the fly ash industry right from safely removing coal ash from the environment to transportation of bulk aggregates, and the recycling of coal combustion residuals into environmentally sustainable products for the concrete industry.
suez-logo SUEZ is a leading environmental company operating in the water, wastewater and waste management services industry. SUEZ’s recycling and waste management capabilities include the management of hazardous waste, its sorting and processing, and treatment and disposal.
logo-WCN_horiz2 One of the largest environmental services companies in North America, Waste Connections helps companies design a waste collection, diversion, and disposal system specific to their facilities. Their services include disposal, logistics, on-site services and vendor management, sourcing of recyclables, beneficial reuse of materials and waste management reporting.
Waste Management Logo20 Waste Management is North America’s largest environmental solutions provider. Waste Management provides comprehensive waste management for companies including helping industries reduce process residuals, minimize risk, reduce management costs, streamline operations and achieve environmental compliance.



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