Aerial view of Duke Energy’s retired Dan River Steam Station and ash basins. (Photo Courtesy of Duke Energy via Flickr.)
The largest electric power holding company in the country has enlisted a panel of experts to evaluate how it manages its coal ash, including the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering's Susan Burns.
Burns, a professor and recognized authority in reusing some of the byproducts of burning coal, joins eight other experts from related fields who will assess Duke Energy’s plans to close dozens of ash basins in North Carolina and guide the company’s permanent ash-management strategies.
The company has been dealing with the fallout of a spill earlier this year that dumped 39,000 tons of ash into North Carolina’s Dan River. The panel will “provide independent and objective analysis of the issues Duke Energy and the industry face when identifying safe, environmentally sound and permanent storage solutions for coal ash,” according to a company news release.
Burns said the panel’s leader, John Daniels from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, invited her to provide her expertise.
“Coal ash is one of the largest sources of industrial waste generated in this country, so finding enough land to physically dispose of the ash is challenging,” Burns said.
She said many of the products of coal combustion — called coal combustion residuals, or CCRs — can be recycled or reused productively, but much of them are not.
“In 2012, it is estimated that 39 million tons of CCRs were used beneficially and not land disposed,” Burns said. “However, we produce over 100 million tons of CCRs every year, so the remaining materials are disposed on land.”
Burns is also the Georgia Power Distinguished Professor and associate chair of undergraduate programs in the School. Her research emphasizes the productive reuse of waste materials, including dredged sediments, fly ash, and biomass fly ash; treatment of highway stormwater runoff using engineered materials; and erosion control of soils on highway rights of way.