Effective Utilisation: Need for systematic management of fly ash

Indian coal has a high ash content of 30-45 per cent, resulting in huge quantities of ash generation from coal-based power plants. The unscientific ha­n­dling and storage of fly ash by thermal power plants (TPPs) have detrimental he­alth effects on local inhabitants, besides polluting the air and water. Fly ash, therefore, needs to be disposed of or repurposed in a scientifically managed manner. Last year, the National Green Tribu­nal outlined the Fly Ash Mana­ge­ment and Utilisation Mission, which stipulated not only the monitoring of the disposal of annual stock of unutilised fly ash but also the overseeing of the utilisation of legacy (accumulated) fly ash. Therefore, TPPs need to actively carry out fly ash management.

There are various methods that can be deployed for effective utilisation of ash. These include utilisation in the building sector for making bricks, blocks, tiles, cement, concrete and plaster; utilisation as a base for land reclamation, filling low-lying areas, raising ground levels and mine filling; utilisation as construction material for roads, embankments, ash dykes and ro­ad blocks; and utilisation in agricultural and wasteland area development, am­ong others.

Government initiatives

Over the years, the government has iss­ued various guidelines and recommendations to enhance fly ash utilisation in the country. In January 2018, the expert committee for effective fly ash utilisation made several recommendations pertaining to effective fly ash disposal and management. The measures sugge­sted that tender/auction of fly ash sh­ou­ld only be issued for end-user/in­d­us­tries and not for traders. It also recommended TPPs and end-users to consider en­tering into long-term agreements for fly ash supply.

In November 2021, the Mi­nistry of Po­wer (MoP) issued a notification stating that all coal- and lignite-based TPPs are required to provide fly ash to end-users (such as cement plants, brick kilns, road and construction agencies, etc.) through a transparent bidding process only. In the notification, the MoP has also stated that TPPs may continue to provide fly ash for na­tional capital projects under their existing commitments based on transportation rates arrived at on the basis of transparent competitive bidding or state sche­dule of rates (whi­chever is lower).

In a key development, in January 2022, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change introduced a revised notification that prohibited dumping and disposal of fly ash discharged by coal- or lignite-based TPPs. In addition, it has introduced the “polluter pays” pr­in­ciple, requiring the polluting TPP to pay a penalty for non-compliance. The­se two norms are designed with the aim of ensuring 100 per cent fly ash utilisation in all TPPs. Non-compliant entities will be forced to pay Rs 1,000 per to­nne of unutilised ash to the Central Po­llu­tion Control Board.

The government has also mandated all government, semi-government and private entities engaged in construction activities such as construction of roads and flyovers in a radius of 300 km of a TPP, to utilise fly ash in their construction. TPPs have to bear the cost of the delivery and transportation of fly ash to project sites.

Fly ash generation and utilisation trends

In 2021-22, India utilised around 259.86 million tonnes (mt) out of the 270.82 mt of fly ash generated. In other words, 95.95 per cent of the fly ash was utilised in 2021-22. Furthermore, 92 out of 200 power utilities managed to utilise over 100 per cent fly ash by reusing fly ash from the previous year. In addition, out of 200 power plants that provided data, around 19 have managed a fly ash utilisation rate of 90-100 per cent.

State-wise, 10 states, namely, Andhra Pra­desh, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, generated more than 10 mt of fly ash each. Further, Gujarat, Harya­na, Ma­harashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan Tamil Nadu and Telangana have achieved a fly ash utilisation level of more than 100 per cent. Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Jhar­kh­and have achieved a fly ash utilisation level of more than 90 per cent, but less than 100 per cent.


Fly ash needs to be systematically managed, which needs multiple chains of logistics to be in place. Internet of things can be a major tool in the management of fly ash. A data management system desig­ned specifically to study ash generation and utilisation can be coupled with software that can process information to study the ash quality, quantity, suitability and availability. Another way to improve the utilisation of fly ash co­u­ld be by creating a marketplace for various agencies and or­ga­nisations to co-or­dinate collection, distri­­bution and management of fly ash. Be­sides this, ash utilisation can be handled by a separate ash utilisation division so that utilisation of ash can be prioritised.

Net, net, IoT-based ash management systems, coupled with government initiatives such as the Ash Track portal, are expected to result in improved ash utilisation at TPPs in the coming years.