Five keys to beneficial use of coal combustion residuals

Green transition 8 May 2022 Sarah Meyer Eric Tlachac

Ramboll experts offer insights into developing a sustainable and cost-effective management plan for CCRs that considers beneficial use and environmental stewardship.


Energy providers are increasingly replacing aging coal-fired power plants with more diversified energy portfolios. This transition has introduced new challenges as regulations evolve and providers re-evaluate the risks and benefits of the management and environmental stewardship of coal combustion residuals (CCRs) – including adopting beneficial reuse. Understanding that owning a legacy of CCRs may provide both environmental risks and opportunities is an important consideration.

To develop a sustainable and cost-effective management plan for your CCRs that includes beneficial use, consider the following five insights. 

01 Beneficial use effectively transforms CCR from waste to resource

USEPA defines beneficial use as the reuse of CCRs in a product that provides a functional benefit; replaces a product made from virgin raw materials, thus conserving natural resources; and meets relevant product specifications and regulatory standards.

  • Common beneficial uses for CCR are:
  • Filler in concrete, plastics and rubber
  • Replacement for cementitious components in concrete or bricks
  • Raw material in wallboard production

CCRs are also used in stabilization, land restoration and other sustainable constructive applications.

02 Market demand for CCRs is increasing

Prices and volumes of useable CCRs vary significantly across end-use markets. Well established markets such as concrete products and cement manufacturing can provide historical understanding of market conditions and pricing. New technologies and emerging uses help support market evaluations and future utilization.

According to the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) and American Coal Ash Association (ACAA), the forecasted use of CCRs is expected to grow from 45% in 2013 to 63% by 2033. Supporting data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) and US Geological Survey (USGS) related to coal-fired power generation and cement consumption strongly indicate a growing market for CCRs.

Useable CCRs in ponds and landfills are already considered a resource and harvested for beneficial use. Increased harvesting is anticipated to support market demand.

03 Beneficial use contributes to the triple bottom line

The value in beneficial use goes beyond market price. Incorporating beneficial use as a CCR management strategy can create positive contributions to overall corporate environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals, including:

  • Reducing environmental risks and liabilities by reducing the volume of CCRs requiring management and storage
  • Creating long-term, positive, economic impact within surrounding communities by providing new opportunities for job creation, employee retention and tax revenue
  • Supporting industry progress toward environmentally responsible practices by supplying a recycled resource that helps to improve overall sustainability of construction, manufacturing and transportation projects
  • Supporting regional industry and manufacturing progress by lowering the cost of construction materials through reducing the need to import or transport materials from distant sources


04 CCR liability management is directly tied to a dynamic regulatory landscape

To develop an effective and strategically aligned CCR management plan that may or may not include beneficial use, it’s necessary to be up to date on regulatory factors that affect management plans – such as deadlines for preparing final closure plans and beneficial use projects, required permits and fees, and operations and maintenance obligations.

05 Opportunities for beneficial use are site-specific. 

A comprehensive understanding of management priorities, current regulations, and the characteristics of both impoundment and CCR material is necessary to develop a realistic array of beneficial use options. To get started, qualified professionals will analyze data such as CCR generation history, initial coal types/sources, boiler design and plant processes, and pollution control systems impacting the CCRs and develop an evaluation plan. Fully developed evaluation plans may include collecting and testing CCR samples, data analysis and modeling, market and logistics evaluations, ESG goal impact assessments, and reporting on which beneficial use options are suitable for the site.


About Ramboll

Our experts assist with the development of alternative, sustainable and cost-effective CCR management plans that address evolving regulations, the green transition and challenges related to coal-fired power plant operations and closure.


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One of the world’s leading environmental and health consultancies, we are trusted by clients to manage their most challenging environmental, health and social issues. We help clients understand and manage the impacts of their activities and products, so that they can respond to business, regulatory or legal challenges effectively and develop sound strategies for operating sustainably.


Globally, there is a general push towards renewables, although conventional energy will continue to play a significant role in the energy mix in the coming years. As a consultancy, Ramboll is at the forefront of addressing the green transition and offers a holistic approach to energy that supports the sector on the journey towards more sustainable solutions.



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