The productive reuse of coal, biomass and co-fired fly ash

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Shearer, Christopher R.
Kurtis, Kimberly E.
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Stricter greenhouse gas emission limits and renewable energy requirements are expected to further increase the worldwide practices of firing biomass and co-firing biomass with coal, which are both considered more sustainable energy sources than coal-only combustion. Reuse options for the by-products of these processes -biomass ash and co-fired fly ash -remain limited. Therefore, this research examines their use as supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs) in concrete and as precursors for alkali-activated geopolymers. Toward their potential use as an SCM, after characterizing these ashes assessing their compliance with ASTM C618 requirements, their impact on early-age hydration kinetics, rheology, setting time and permeability was assessed. Furthermore, the pozzolanic reactivity and the microstructural and hydrated phase development of the cement-ash samples were analyzed. The results show that a wood biomass ash sample was not satisfactory for use as an SCM. On the other hand, the findings demonstrate that co-fired fly ashes can significantly improve the strength and durability properties of concrete compared to ordinary portland cement, in part due to their pozzolanicity. Thus, it is recommended that the ASTM C618 standard be modified to permit co-fired fly ash sources that meet existing requirements and any additional requirements deemed necessary to ensure their satisfactory performance when used in concrete. Toward their potential use in geopolymers, this study characterized the early-age reaction kinetics and rheological behavior of these materials, showing that their exothermic reactivity, plastic viscosity and yield stress are significantly influenced by the activator solution chemistry and other characteristics of the ash. Two co-fired fly ashes were successfully polymerized, with compressive strengths generally highest for ashes activated with solutions with a molar ratio of SiO₂/(Na₂O + K₂O) = 1. The results show that geopolymerization is a viable beneficial reuse for these emerging by-products. Further characterization of these materials by scanning transmission X-ray microscopy analysis revealed the heterogeneity of the aluminosilicate phase composition of the co-fired fly ash geopolymer gel at the nano- to micro-scale.
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