Life cycle assessment of the reuse of fly ash from biomass combustion as secondary cementitious material in cement products

Lorenzo Tosti, André van Zomeren, Jan R. Pels, Anders Damgaard, Rob N.J. Comans*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


In this study, we performed a life cycle assessment of the reuse of biomass fly ash as secondary cementitious material in cement mortars as alternative to a reference landfill scenario of the ash. Since biomass ash does contain enhanced levels of elements that are of potential concern for the environment or human exposure, the performed Life Cycle Assessment (LCA), in addition to CO2 savings, takes into account the impact on all non-toxic categories and human toxicity/carcinogenicity during service and second life stages. Results showed that utilization of biomass ash in cement is preferable over landfill for all the non-toxic categories at both cement replacements rates of 20 and 40 wt%. In detail, the reduction of CO2-eq. was found to be between 11 and 26% when biomass ash was blended with cement instead of being landfilled. The hydraulic activity of biomass ashes was found to be a critical parameter in this scenario, as it had impacts on the global warming potential (and all other investigated non-toxic categories), and it is therefore crucial to consider the uncertainty related to this aspect in LCA studies. Cement containing biomass ash performed better, on average, when compared with the reference landfill scenario regarding the impact to human toxicity (carcinogenic) category. Contrary, only the utilization in cement for one particular ash type (from paper sludge combustion) showed a better performance than the reference scenario for the ecotoxicity (ET) category. The impact to human toxicity carcinogenic (HTc) and ecotoxicity (ET) was mainly dominated by the leaching of Cr from landfilling of pure biomass fly ash (reference scenario) and the leaching of Ba, Cu, Cr (VI) and Zn from the second life stage of cement products (i.e., reuse of the crushed cement after service life in road base applications). However, this impact was acceptable when emissions are compared to existing EU landfill directive and regulations on the reuse of secondary materials in construction works. The novel LCA approach performed in this study, which includes impacts of leached contaminants during both the service and second life phase of cement, has shown that the reuse of biomass ash as secondary cementitious materials has a beneficial effect on the majority of the impact categories, with no unacceptable leaching risks.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118937
JournalJournal of cleaner production
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Biomass fly ash
  • Cement
  • Leaching
  • Life cycle assessment (LCA)
  • Second life

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