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Recycling for Sustainability: Plant Growth Media from Coal Combustion Products, Biosolids and Compost

Authors: Sougata Bardhan, Yona Chen, Warren A. Dick


Generation of electricity from coal has increased over the years in the United States and around the world. Burning of coal results in annual production of upwards of 100 millions tons (United States only) of coal combustion products (CCPs). Only about a third of these products are being used to create new products while the remainder goes to landfills. Application of CCPs mixed with composted organic materials onto soil can improve the soil-s physico-chemical conditions and provide essential plant nutritients. Our objective was to create plant growth media utilizing CCPs and compost in way which maximizes the use of these products and, at the same time, maintain good plant growth. Media were formulated by adding composted organic matter (COM) to CCPs at ratios ranging from 2:8 to 8:2 (v/v). The quality of these media was evaluated by measuring their physical and chemical properties and their effect on plant growth. We tested the media by 1) measuring their physical and chemical properties and 2) the growth of three plant species in the experimental media: wheat (Triticum sativum), tomato (Lycopersicum esculentum) and marigold (Tagetes patula). We achieved significantly (p < 0.001) higher growth (7-130%) in the experimental media containing CCPs compared to a commercial mix. The experimental media supplied adequate plant nutrition as no fertilization was provided during the experiment. Based on the results, we recommend the use of CCPs and composts for the creation of plant growth media.

Keywords: Coal ash, FGD gypsum, organic compost, and plant growth media.

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