Towards sustainable coal industry: Turning coal bottom ash into wealth

Hongxu Zhou, Rabin Bhattarai, Yunkai Li, Buchun Si, Xinxin Dong, Tengfei Wang, Zhitong Yao

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Although the world is gradually moving towards renewable energy resources, the coal industry will continue to be a major energy supply sector in the foreseeable future. However, by-products such as coal fly ash (CFA), coal bottom ash (CBA), and boiler slag are generated during coal combustion, and have become a significant environmental concern. There is an urgent need for transdisciplinary efforts in research, policy, and practice to reduce these by-products substantially. Many studies have focused on the environmental management and comprehensive utilization of CFA. As a comparison, less attention has been paid to CBA. Therefore, this critical review provides a holistic picture of CBA, from the generation, fundamental characteristics, environmental concerns to potential applications, and benefits analysis. Based on the fundamental characteristics, CBA can be considered as a sustainable and renewable resource with great potential to produce value-added materials. High-value applications and current research related to CBA, including construction and ceramic industry, wastewater remediation, soil amelioration, energy catalysis, valuable metals recovery, and material synthesis, are systemically presented and compared. It emphasizes the environmental and economic benefits of the sustainable applications of CBA as well. Particularly, it indicates that CBA is a promising candidate in normal, lightweight, self-compacting, and ultra-high-performance concrete, which shows a reduction in both energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions during concrete production. This work provides new insights into the greener and sustainable applications of CBA, and it will offer a practical guide for the sustainable development of the coal industry.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number149985
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Jan 15 2022


  • Coal bottom ash
  • Coal combustion by-products
  • Fossil fuels
  • Sustainable development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution

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