TransAlta’s fly ash takes off reducing our environmental footprint

Sep 29, 2015

There is a little bit of TransAlta in the Calgary International Airport’s new runway, and it has nothing to do with illuminating the landing strip. About a third of the runway is comprised of a little known, but crucial ingredient in high-quality cementing material called fly ash. TransAlta is Canada’s biggest supplier.

“The new runway, the longest in Canada, is one of the biggest concrete placements in the province,” said Chris Lopez, TransAlta vice-president, operations improvement. “Our fly ash is a critical component of the airstrip as its super-fine quality adds to the strength of high-quality concrete.”

Fly ash is exactly just that; ash that floats up after of coal combustion. It’s one of the non-hazardous byproducts that TransAlta recycles and sells. Fly ash and other byproducts, including bottom ash, gypsum and coal fines, come from power-generating facilities west of Edmonton, Alberta, and Centralia, Washington State.

Reducing TransAlta’s environmental footprint

TransAlta started to recycle byproducts from coal combustion in the 1980s. For more than a decade, it has partnered with Lafarge, a world leader in building materials. It’s a longstanding business relationship. TransAlta and Lafarge, located in the Rocky Mountains in Exshaw, Alberta, one of their many locations in Western Canada and Pacific Northwest, share a 100-year history that dates back to TransAlta’s first hydro facility Horseshoe.

“By recycling fly ash, we support other industries with a critical component of their production, decrease waste that might otherwise end up in the landfill and reduce TransAlta’s environmental footprint,” said Jennifer Doepker, TransAlta commercial manager fuels & byproducts.

“There is a direct correlation between ash sales and construction. Housing and major infrastructure projects require fly ash and bottom ash,” said Doepker. “We are the go-to company because our ash supply is the most reliable and is the highest quality in Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest.”

High demand for high-quality

The quality of fly ash in Centralia is unique as it’s very, very fine.

“TransAlta’s fly ash is considered the highest quality in the industry,” says Doepker. “The fact that we’re capturing the finest material speaks to the cleanliness of our plants.” TransAlta won a plant of the year award in 2013 for being one of the cleanest and best maintained plants in the U.S.

That appetite for fly ash is growing. In 2014, TransAlta recycled 840,000 tonnes of coal by product materials. The volume has significantly increased from 2013, where 700,000 tonnes were recycled.

“To put this in perspective, in a typical concrete pavement design that includes 20 per cent fly ash, 550,000 tonnes would provide the fly ash required to building a highway from coast to coast – Prince Rupert to St John’s,” said Sebastian Lagos, commercial specialist in fuel and byproducts at TransAlta. “Our 2014 volume is the equivalent concrete to pave a highway across the country and half-way back again.”

What’s next?

TransAlta is looking at new ways to minimize waste created by its electrical generating facilities by investing in additional infrastructure to capture more of its byproducts. For example, the company has a new coal fines facility at its plant in Centralia that recovers coal to reuse in electricity generation. TransAlta is also looking at salvaging even more of its coal byproducts with the goal of recycling a minimum of two million tonnes of coal byproduct between 2015 and 2017.

Learn more about this and many more actions in our latest Report on Sustainability.

September 8, 2015

Banner image: First takeoff on the new runway last year.
Image provided by the Calgary Airport Authority.

Below: The new runway at the Calgary International Airport. Image provided by the Calgary Airport Authority/Multivista.