Fly ash largely consists of the inorganic content of coal that remains after combustion. The crystalline phases present in fly ash may form upon cooling of a molten alumino-silicate glass. This view is supported by the spherical shape of many fly ash particles, inferring that they have gone through a viscous fluid state. The amorphous content in fly ash is believed to dominate reactivity behaviour, under both alkaline and acid conditions, because glasses have a higher potential energy than the equivalent crystal structure and the variation of bond angles and distances in a glass makes the bond breakage easier. It is the degradation behaviour under alkaline conditions, and the subsequent release of silica from the glass phase, that is important in the use of fly ash for conversion to zeolites and for pozzolanic applications in cement. This research comprehensively studies the composition, quantity and stability of the glass phase in a series of nine fly ashes sourced from Spanish and Italian power plants. The quantitative elemental composition of the glass phase in each fly ash was determined. Samples of the ashes then underwent a series of tests to determine the internal structure of the ash particles. Heat treatment of most of the ashes results in mullite crystallising from the glass phase; this is the crystalline phase that is predicated to form by both the relevant phase diagrams and also by NMR spectroscopy. In the ashes, mullite is present as a spherical shell, tracing the outline of the particle but in some specific cases the mullite skeleton is made up of coarse crystals reach also the internal parts of the particles. The morphology and density of the mullite crystals in these shells varies greatly. This work has supported the view that some crystalline phases present in fly ashes, such as mullite, form upon cooling of the amorphous glass melt as opposed to direct conversion from existing mineral phases in the coal during the combustion process. © 2004 Society of Chemical Industry.


Chemical and Biochemical Engineering

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Article - Journal

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Publication Date

01 May 2004