Scientist Discovers New Use for Industrial Fly Ash

(NTD Television 5-30-2011) Coal-firing plants which burn coal to generate electricity produce a residue waste material called fly ash. The dust-like substance is China's single biggest source of solid industrial waste. 
Dr. Nikhil Gupta is Associate Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University in Brooklyn. He has found a way to use fly ash with metals like aluminum or magnesium to make a material that can be used in a number of applications, including the manufacture of automobile parts. Gupta says fly ash particles are ceramic-based and some are hollow and almost geometrically round. 
[Dr. Nikhil Gupta, Assoc. Professor, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, NYU Polytechnic Institute]: "This fly ash in metal, just like a cake mix. And then we can use this mixture to cast a part that we need. So it can be a small engine cover or it can be a sump cover or an engine mount." 
One of the most positive properties of the material is that it is lightweight, but just as strong as aluminum or magnesium products. Gupta has carried out stringent laboratory high speed compression tests on the metal-fly ash mix to see how it withstands the equivalent pressure of a 60 mile per hour car accident.              
There are several benefits to the science. Firstly, fly ash, a waste product which would otherwise lie in landfills, is being used. Plus, using less metal reduces pollution created by generating the primary metals. And if vehicle structures can become lighter, they will consume less fuel and very importantly, the technology will save money for industries. 
[Dr. Nikhil Gupta, Assoc. Professor, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, NYU Polytechnic Institute]: "The break-up is very simple. Aluminum is somewhere close to $2 a pound right now and fly ash is a waste material so it's available for free. So, if you're replacing 40 percent of aluminum with something which is almost free are extremely cheap, then the final product, or the component is actually lower in cost."  
Fly ash is currently used to make some construction materials, and this new compound could add a new dimension to utilizing waste. As a by-product of coal combustion, fly ash contains several environmental toxins such as arsenic, cadmium and lead. 
Each year, millions of tons of it end up in landfills and ash ponds. Dr. Gupta says that if just some of that pollutant can be put to good use, it will benefit several sectors of the economy and the environment.            
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