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Good Things Come to Those Who Wait: A Long-Awaited Project to Build a By-Product Processing Plant Begins

Drs. Thomas Robl and John Groppo have spent over a dozen years of their professional lives working on methods to make the most of the coal combustion by-products that utilities produce after coal is burned. Throughout these years, and continuous discoveries, improvements, and upgrading, they have received many grants from funding agencies. With these smaller grants under their belts, their expertise led them to a long-negotiated, but recently funded $9M project that will enable the CAER, Cemex USA, Inc., Louisville Gas and Electric, and the US Department of Energy (DOE) to build a first-of-its-kind processing plant.

“It took some patience and negotiations, but it is finally here. There were times when I wasn't sure it would really happen. We are really ready to get going,” said Dr. Groppo.

This is part of the DOE's Clean Coal Power Initiative. The processing plant will be located at the Ghent Power Plant in Ghent, Kentucky. What is so special about this processing plant is that it generates an array of products from coal combustion ash that power plants produce. The process will generate a material that can be used at higher than usual Portland cement substitution levels in concrete. At the other end of the stream will be coarse ash that can be used as lightweight aggregate, suitable for use in concrete blocks. The process can also recover unburned carbon, which will be recycled back into the utility boiler as a supplemental fuel.

This would not be taking place without the help of each member of the groups. In addition to these researchers who invented the process, industrial partners were needed to make it happen. Louisville Gas and Electric is providing a location at which this can take place. Cemex, the third largest cement producer in the US, is financing $3.6M of the project with the aim of eventually using the by-products in their Portland cement production. Finally, the DOE is providing the majority of the funding ($4.5M) under the first round of the President's 10-year, $2 billion Clean Coal Power Initiative. The program is aimed at addressing the nation's increasing demand for electricity while at the same time providing a secure, low-cost energy sources friendly to the environment.

Of the six participating organizations selected in round one, the University of Kentucky is the only university.