When national power utility, Eskom, developed an ash strategy in order to manage its utilisation, they included submissions of exclusion documents to government, on behalf of industry, to ease the legislative constraints on users.
The strategy sets out guidelines for the use of ash and allows for the exclusion of the waste product’s hazardous classification when used in brick making, cement, road construction, soil amelioration and mine backfilling.
“First and foremost, we need ash to be excluded from the classification of hazardous waste. It is in fact only when stored for extended periods that it may have an impact on the environment,” says Hunter.
“There is a plethora of research, which has been completed that shows that there are many applications of ash, which are not harmful to the environment or health.”
Hunters says any South Africans wishing to venture into the lucrative business can most likely get ash at low or no cost, provided they can prove that they have a viable use for the ash and that the operation will generate revenue and jobs.
“Around 10% of the total 50-million tons of ash produced per year is used in the manufacture of cement powder and concrete bricks for the building industry. Some of the ash is used to treat acid mine drainage and to remediate soil for agriculture and other land uses,” says Hunter.
“However, this is just the ‘tip-of-the-iceberg’. We will need to continue working with formal industries, such as mining, construction and the cement industries to find all possible avenues to utilise ash,” he adds.
Partnering up with entrepreneurs
Hunter notes, as the second biggest waste stream – after organic waste that is sent to landfill – coal ash is becoming a headache for the country as space to dump it is running out.
“As a part of the Department of Environmental Affairs’ Phakisa Programme to reduce waste to landfill, while creating sustainable employment in the process, we have been given a target to increase ash usage to 20% of offtake, with the support of government. We are also looking into ways of selling coal ash that will also improve business development and increase infrastructure development.
“Experts have already identified a host of other uses for ash including alternative building products, volumisers for plastics manufacture, contouring for road, rail and landscaping infrastructure. So reaching the 20% target is not only possible, but probable if some viable alternatives can be found to dumping.”
Hunter assures that start-up ash operations can expect some kind of assistance from Government, generators, SACAA and academics to extract the maximum potential out of ideas that are deemed to be viable. He says these projects will require close cooperation and speedy facilitation between Government and other role-players who understand the urgency of the matter.
“We are also looking for industrial entrepreneurs to assist in identifying and developing viable business opportunities for the use of waste ash generated by our producers via their boilers.
“Simultaneously, we will engage with scientists and entrepreneurs to identify areas where ash can be used as additives in manufacturing processes and as an end product in other instances. Then the race will be on to industrialise these,” he adds.
The commercialisation of this industry will look at possibly creating over 26 000 new jobs, a number Hunter believes can be achieved in the next five years
“We are confident that we have the full backing of Government and that we will make a success of the project. We therefore call on creative and technical people, as well as business people and entrepreneurs, to come forward and be a part of the solution,” concludes Hunter.