Beneficial use is the reuse of coal combustion residuals (CCR) in a product to replace virgin raw materials that would otherwise be obtained through extraction, thus conserving natural resources. EPA encourages the beneficial use of coal combustion residuals in an appropriate and protective manner, because this practice can produce positive environmental, economic, and performance benefits, including:
- Environmental benefits such as reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced need for disposing in landfills, and reduced use of virgin resources.
- Economic benefits such as reduced costs associated with CCR disposal, increased revenue from the sale of CCRs, and savings from using CCRs in place of other, more costly materials.
- Performance benefits such as improved strength, durability, and workability of materials (e.g., concrete).
While the beneficial use of coal combustion residuals has been shown to have these potential benefits, the environmental impacts associated with their use should also be considered. The most recent available data from responses to an American Coal Ash Association (ACAA) survey of electric utilities shows that in 2012, at least 39 million tons of coal combustion residuals were beneficially used.
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Encapsulated uses are those where coal combustion residuals are bound in a product, such as in wallboard, concrete, roofing materials, and bricks. There are important benefits to the environment and the economy from the use of CCRs in encapsulated form. The two largest encapsulated uses reported by the ACAA are fly ash used in "concrete/concrete products/grout" (11.8 million tons) and FGD gypsum used in "gypsum panel products" (7.6 million tons), making up nearly 50 percent of the total amount of coal combustion residuals that are beneficially used.
EPA developed a methodology for evaluating encapsulated beneficial uses of coal combustion residuals. This methodology supports beneficial use decisions by allowing the user to determine whether releases from an encapsulated beneficial use of coal combustion residuals are comparable to or lower than those from analogous products made without CCRs, or are at or below relevant regulatory and health-based benchmarks, during use.
Methodology for Evaluating Encapsulated Beneficial Uses of Coal Combustion Residuals
- Methodology text (PDF) (22 pp, 821 KB)
- Peer Review Summary Report (PDF) (44 pp, 400 KB)
- Responses to External Peer Review Comments (PDF) (33 pp, 211 KB)
The Agency used the methodology to evaluate the potential environmental impacts associated from fly ash used as a direct substitute for portland cement in concrete, and from FGD gypsum used as a replacement for mined gypsum in wallboard. EPA’s evaluation concluded that the beneficial use of encapsulated CCRs in concrete and wallboard is appropriate because they are either comparable to analogous products or below the relevant benchmarks.
Coal Combustion Residual Beneficial Use Evaluation: Fly Ash Concrete and FGD Gypsum Wallboard
CCR Beneficial Use
Unencapsulated uses are those where coal combustion residuals are in a loose or unbound particulate or sludge form. EPA plans to develop a conceptual model for unencapsulated beneficial uses of CCRs in 2015.
How are beneficial uses of coal combustion residuals currently regulated?
Currently, state environmental agencies are primarily responsible for regulating beneficial use. Beneficial use of coal combustion residuals is currently excluded from federal regulation under EPA's May 2000 regulatory determination (PDF) (25 pp, 319 KB) that the Bevill amendment applies to such uses. Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, federal action could be taken if there were a finding of imminent or substantial endangerment in a specific circumstance.