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Waste treatment problem hinders coal power plant development

Update: September, 12/2017 - 10:22
As Việt Nam develops its thermal power plant system to meet increasing energy demands, the country faces a new environmental risk arising from the waste generated by those plants. — Photo baohaiquan.vn

HÀ NỘI – As Việt Nam develops its thermal power plant system to meet increasing energy demands, the country faces a new environmental risk arising from the waste generated by those plants.

Burning coal for power results in the production of a variety of solid waste, including coal ash (fly ash and bottom ash) and boiler slag. Under Việt Nam’s regulations, boiler slag is defined as unharmful solid waste, but fly ash is listed as “possibly harmful waste”.

Oficial figures show the 21 thermal power plants across the country generate about 15.8 million tonnes of coal ash and boiler slag, of which only about 5 million tonnes are treated. Without a systematic waste treatment plan, many plants will soon run out of space to store them.

Mông Dương 1 thermal power plant in northeastern Quảng Ninh Province went into operation at the end of 2015 but is running the risk of closure due to this problem.

The 1,080MW-capacity plant consumes about 3 million tonnes of coal a year and releases 1 million cubic metres of coal ash and boiler slag. Its dumping ground has a storage capacity of 1.25 million cu.m, of which up to 1.8 million have been used. According to EVN GENCO 3, the plant investor, the storage capacity will run out in eight months.

Building material use

Thermal power plants in the southern province of Trà Vinh are facing the same fate.

Duyên Hải Power Centre, comprising four power plants, has dumping grounds of 100 hectares. Nguyễn Trung Hoàng, vice chairman of the provincial People’s Committee, said the likelihood of it being filled up may happen soon as “the amount of ash and boiler slag are huge”.

Meanwhile, the dumping ground of Cẩm Phả Thermal Power Plant, also located in Quảng Ninh Province, is already overflowing, the plant’s deputy director Nguyễn Đình Tuấn told the Thanh Niên (Young people) newspaper.

The company had contracts with two enterprises to sell boiler slag as materials to produce cement, but the amount was too small for that purpose.

Trần Văn Lượng, head of the Industrial Safety Techniques and Environment Agency, admitted that the by-products of coal burning to generate electricity pose a challenge to the environment.

Việt Nam will have 12 additional thermal power plants by 2020, which are predicted to generate about 22.6 million tonnes of coal ash and boiler slag each year.

Lượng said that a way out of the problem is making use of the waste to produce building materials.

According to Associate Professor Trương Duy Nghĩa, chairman of Thermo Scientific and Technical Society Vietnam, coal ash and boiler slag are mainly comprised of metal oxide suitable for producing building materials. “When coal ash and boiler slag are used to produce building materials, the environmental problem is solved,” he said.

In fact, a couple of plants have already done so and attained good result.

Hải Phòng Thermal Power Company in the coastal city of Hải Phòng has been able to sell a majority of its production residues to companies producing cement and non-fire bricks.

This is why its dumping ground with a capacity to hold 9 million tonnes of waste is never overloaded, said Nguyễn Thường Quang, the company’s director.

“Using coal ash and boiler slag as materials help produce good quality cement and increase profits. In fact, people have made used of this waste to produce cement and non-fire bricks for a long time,” Quang said.

Although the selling price of the waste is not high, only about VNĐ10,000-20,000 per kilogramme,  Quang said the importance was it solved the problem of waste overload.

Obstacles

Company Chairman Trần Văn Nam said coal ash and boiler slag should be seen as potential materials, instead of toxic substances.

However, he admitted there were obstacles hindering other power plants from doing what his company was doing, especially in the country’s southern area.

“Unlike in the north, cement and brick producing plants in the south are often far away from thermal power plants. As a result, the consumption of coal ash and boiler slag faces difficulties due to high transportation cost,” he said.

Nam suggested that the State should plan cement and brick producing plants surrounding thermal power plants, in addition to policies to support technology development relating to this issue and tax incentives for the companies involved.

According to Lượng from the Industrial Safety Techniques and Environment Agency, there are still other problems, including the lack of national technical regulations on coal ash and boiler slag use for building materials.

At a recent seminar on developing thermal power, a representative of the Ministry of Construction said the ministry is compiling such a document and expects to issue it by early next year, in hopes of overcoming the obstacle. — VNS

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