Guest post by Elder Demolition This decade will see the industrial demolition of dozens of coal power plants. Coal plant decommissioning is influenced by factors including tightening environmental regulations, public interest in cleaner power sources and competition from other power sources such as natural gas. While some coal plants may be viable for conversion to natural gas, the majority will be demolished. A recent Navigant Research report estimates that the coal plant decommissioning market will represent $5.3 billion between 2013 and 2020. Elder DemolitionEngineers, consultants, environmental remediation firms and demolition and asset recovery experts will all be clamoring for their own pieces of that coal decommissioning pie. Scrap metal recyclers will also be hoping to “cash in” on the dismantling of coal power plants. In this sense, demolishing coal plants will be an economic boost for companies all over the country. For eco-minded individuals, material recycling is the most important aspect of coal plant decommissioning. A few decades ago, power plant operators could just fence off and abandon old plants, but modern environmental laws require much more thorough dismantling. From tearing down old buildings to processing toxic materials and refurbishing the land, there are many ways to “go green” when taking apart a coal plant. Plant owners have a financial incentive to recycle as much as possible, as salvaged materials can significantly offset demolition costs.

Scrap metal recycling: Good for the bottom line, good for the earth

Scrap metal recycling is an especially lucrative aspect of decommissioning coal plants. Indeed, Richard Martin, author of the Navigant Research report, says that recycling scrap metal can often offset the entire cost of demolition. The Navigant Research report estimates that a plant that produces between 350 and 500 megawatts would cost approximately $18.9 million to decommission. Environmental remediation and coal ash removal are some of the most expensive aspects of coal plant demolition. Coal ash can contaminate nearby water sources, so power companies must dilute or remote it to avoid damaging local ecosystems. And, the land that the coal plant once occupied must be remediated to prevent future contamination. Firms that fail to properly handle coal ash are subject to stiff penalties from the EPA. On the other end of the demolition cost spectrum, we have scrap metal. Worth hundreds of dollars per ton, scrap metal is abundant in old power plants in the form of rebar, roofing, structural elements and more. Scrap metal provides exceptional salvage return because recycled steel is just as strong as virgin steel. Demolition firms begin the asset recovery process by creating an asset recovery plan. Next, the plant is “soft stripped,” meaning that any reusable machines, fixtures and finishing materials are removed and sold. Third, large metal elements are removed and reduced in size to facilitate transport and processing. Metal materials are isolated into discrete piles, often using magnetic demolition tools. Just one scrap of gypsum or wood can ruin an entire load of scrap metal, so demolition firms have a real incentive to keep metals separate. Finally, scrap metal is transported to processing plants where it can be melted down and repurposed. Recycled scrap metal may be used in new bridges and buildings. Overall, construction and demolition materials make up 40% of this country’s waste stream. By recycling scrap metal from coal power plants, owners can have a big impact on waste volume. Since ferrous and nonferrous steel offer a sizable salvage return, plant owners can offset the majority of demolition costs by recycling as much steel as possible. Elder Demolition is a fully licensed and insured demolition company with certifications for hazardous waste handling as well as broad experience with LEED-certified green demolitions. Elder Demolition specializes in industrial demolition and commercial demolition services, with expertise in scrap metal demolition and asset recovery.