Hope new, eco-friendly concrete rises from the ashes of coal energy

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Hope new, eco-friendly concrete rises from the ashes of coal energy

Researchers hope that a new concrete recipe that uses waste products will create renewable jobs and industry for a city that transitions away from coal mining.

A team from Murdoch University in Western Australia developed the concrete and dubbed it “Collicrete,” the recycled products coming from the provincial town of Coulee, Western Australia.

Lab assistant Ramon Skene said the goal was to incorporate as much waste as possible.

“Colecrete concrete can use up to 80 to 90 percent of recycled materials as a cement component,” he said.

The main waste product is fly ash, a byproduct of coal combustion, but the design can also preserve bauxite residue from alumina mining and recycled aggregates.

Hendrik Gildenhuys and Ramon Skane created a concrete mix from a range of recycled products. (

ABC South West: Kate Stevens

)

“These materials are waste and have no purpose,” Mr. Skene said.

Close-up of a small shovel carrying a pile of gray ash from a white bucket
Fly ash is a byproduct of coal combustion and the main ingredient in Colliecrete. (

ABC South West: Kate Stevens

)

Recycle waste and reduce emissions

Concrete is one of the most widely used building products in the world, but it is also a significant source of greenhouse gases.

A 2018 study by global research center Chatham House estimated that cement is responsible for about 8 percent of global emissions.

But this concrete can create up to 80 percent fewer emissions.

“The reason that conventional concrete is so carbon-intensive is that the cement used; all raw materials must be heated up to 1,000°C,” said Mr. Skene.

“The cement we use can be made anywhere at room temperature.”

Several small gray concrete blocks line up in a row with an inconspicuous man in the background
Like geopolymer cement, Colliecrete is less carbon dense. (

ABC South West: Kate Stevens

)

A bright future, with some obstacles

Colliecrete is a form of geopolymer concrete – which typically uses fly ash as the main ingredient in cement.

Geopolymer concrete has been developed in other parts of Australia and has been used on projects from docks to airports.

Professor Greg Morrison, of Curtin University’s Institute for Sustainability Policy, said the use of alternative, eco-friendly products is emerging in the construction industry.

“There is great potential for using different types of mixes for concrete to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or for using other types of construction techniques in place of concrete,” he said.

Professor Morrison said that while the future is bright for the development of geopolymer concrete, hurdles remain.

“This is always the problem when you have very large companies that produce cement and concrete at a very low cost.

“So I think that’s the challenge, but I think it’s a great idea.”

Wooden slab filled with cement
Environmentally friendly concrete is becoming more and more popular as people turn to sustainable building products. (

ABC South West: Kate Stevens

)

A new industry born from the ashes

Collie was chosen as the new concrete home due to its abundance of fly ash.

The city has been burning coal for nearly 100 years, creating a large stockpile of waste products.

Bluewaters Power Station, a privately operated coal-fired power plant in Coulee, provided researchers with samples of fly ash for their testing.

“We also provided them with the data from our analysis of the ash,” said Stephen Dunk of the station.

“They used that to create their own blend or blend that works well with our fly ash.”

The power plant produces about 600 tons of fly ash every day which is currently trucked to the coal mine and buried.

Mr. Deonck said it was great to see use of the waste product.

A man in a hard hat and reflective clothing holds a small square gray piece of concrete at a power station
Stephen Dunk inspects a small sample of colecrete at the Bluewaters Power Plant. (

ABC South West: Kate Stevens

)

Like many cities across Australia, Collie is beginning to transition away from coal as the power grid becomes more dependent on renewables.

This means that the region is looking for new industries that will provide jobs and, eventually, to end the production of fly ash.

But Ramon Skene is not interested in that.

“Once the power plants are closed, we can use fly ash that has been stored for more than 60 years in the pits,” he said.

Truck collecting dust from the bottom of the silo
Every day about 600 tons of fly ash are trucked from the power plant and buried. (

ABC South West: Kate Stevens

)

Powerful jobs for the future

So far, researchers have poured concrete on a smaller scale, the largest being one cubic meter.

But Sarah Stanley, president of Coolie Shire, can see the potential.

“Colecrete is exciting because it ticks all the boxes for sustainability in terms of new jobs, new job opportunities, and eco-friendly industries, and it’s also really great for our community,” she said.

Stanley said the feasibility study estimates the product could create 30 to 80 jobs.

Sarah Stanley sitting at a desk
Sarah Stanley, Head of Colliers Shire, thinks the possibilities are endless for Cullicrete.(

Hugh Sandow

)

As the Colliecrete team slowly scales up the flow to test larger blocks of concrete, Ramon Skane is already looking to the future.

“Ultimately we can use this for any concrete application. Highway barriers … can be used for buildings,” he said.

“It can be used for anything that can be used in concrete at the moment.”

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