Fly ashes as precursors of functionalised materials

Fly ash

Zeolites synthesized from fly ashes

Zeolite structure

Three of Poland’s science and research centres (AGH University of Science and Technology, Lublin University of Technology and University of Warsaw) have joined forces to establish the FUNash Consortium with a view to developing a series of functionalised fly ash-based materials characterised by enhanced functionality. The materials to be developed will find applications in construction (cements and biocements), agriculture (fertilizers and biofertilizers) and environmental engineering (sorbents and biopreparations to be used for remediation of polluted water, soils and gases). The Foundation for Polish Science (FNP) will subsidise the research work with a grant of PLN 21m under the TEAM-NET Scheme.

The leader of the FUNash initiative is Lublin University of Technology, Faculty of Civil Engineering and Architecture (Project manager: Professor Wojciech Franus, PhD, MTech) with two consortium members: AGH University of Science and Technology – Faculty of Geology, Geophysics and Environmental Protection (coordinator: Professor Tomasz Bajda, PhD, MTech) and University of Warsaw, the Faculty of Biology (coordinator: Professor Łukasz Drewniak, PhD, MSc).

Six research teams will be established for the purpose of the project. Members of these project teams will have unlimited access to research and scientific infrastructure of the institutions that make up the consortium.

The scope of the project will cover the following issues:

  • the development of various technologies allowing the use of fly ashes as precursors of the synthesis of functionalised materials (unit responsible: Lublin University of Technology),
  • the applicability of functionalised materials in construction, including applications of innovative microbiologically-modified materials (unit responsible: Lublin University of Technology),
  • creation of functionalised sorbents for remediation of polluted water and soil environments (unit responsible: AGH UST),
  • development of technologies for the production of mineral and organic fertilizers from fly ash-based materials (unit responsible: AGH UST),
  • development of biopreparations supporting the process of bioremediation of polluted water, soil and gases (unit responsible: University of Warsaw),
  • research into the production of microbiological biostimulators of crop growth and biocomposting as well as biological inhibitors of plant phytopathogens (unit responsible: University of Warsaw).

Lublin University of Technology owns Poland’s only installation for converting fly ashes into porous mineral and mineral/organic materials. The innovative potential of the solution proposed in the project consists in the application of fly ashes as a precursor of the synthesis of mesoporous siliceous materials and organometallic compounds. What will come as a novelty is the possibility of using the functionalised materials in a host of new industrial applications including construction, environmental engineering and agriculture. Plans are under way to use the new materials in the production of mineral-asphalt mixes in warm mix asphalt technology. The proposed R&D activity will for the first time result in the development of technologies for microbiological production of biocements to be used for consolidation of sandy soils as well as stone surface damage repairs (including objects of cultural and historical value). The project will yield yet another innovative solution as the developed materials will be functionalised in order to enable modification of their physical and chemical properties which, in turn, will  result in the development of hybrid or specifically modified sorbents to target specific forms of pollution, including: anionic metal forms, metalloids and non-metals, radionuclides and organic pollution (e.g. antibiotics, dyes, pesticides and herbicides) in water, wastewater and agricultural soil. Another important innovation that will come with the project will be impregnation of the functionalised materials that will be obtained in the course of the project with nitrates, sulfates and phosphates in order to develop an original technology of producing mineral-organic fertilizers with lignite additives.

Researchers also plan to develop formulas for mineral and organic fertilizers to be used with specific species of plants which are predominant in European cropping patterns. As regards the work on biopreparations for removing organic pollutants from water, soil and air, the new solution comes as highly original thanks to the practical utilisation of fly ash conversion products to be deployed as a carrier for bacteria responsible for conducting the bioremediation process. The immobilisation of microorganisms on the functionalised materials specially conditioned with waste organic substrates will make the bacteria demonstrate more stable and effective performance in the environment, while the process of bioaugmentation will be offered more favourable conditions. An additional innovation will come in the form of the development of immobilised bacterial vaccines for treatment of waste gases. Part of the project will be focused on the development of new biofertilizers based on functionalised materials that will constitute carriers for immobilised microorganisms stimulating plant growth or the process of composting as well as suppressing the development of phytopathogens.

The FUNash Project has been devised to deliver products, services and technologies to be provided for various sectors of industry (agriculture, construction and environmental engineering). The comprehensiveness of the proposed approach with respect to the effective re-use of fly ashes will make it one of its kind so far – in the case of industrial processes this will have a direct impact on the commercial viability of production technologies.