Article in The Albuquerque Tribune: From the ashes

Saving the world is a pretty good business.

Just ask PNM Resources.

After adopting an environmental sustainability policy in 2004, the company has moved more urgently ahead with in-house recycling programs that are keeping the world a little more green and making PNM Resources a buck to boot.

“Recycling is a good thing for the environment,” said Jeff Buell, spokesman for PNM Resources and coordinator with Team Green, the company’s environmental policy execution group that turns a year old in August. “It is also a good thing for the bottom line.”

Take fly ash, a byproduct of about 6.5 million tons of coal a year burned at the San Juan Generating Station near Farmington.

In 2004, Public Service Company of New Mexico, a subsidiary of PNM Resources, sold 142,844 tons of the incredibly fine ash for use in concrete products.

That’s about the equivalent of 19,000 male elephants that otherwise could have ended up taking space in underground landfills.

It’s almost twice the amount sold in 2003, and almost three times the amount sold in 2002, according to PNM documents.

Buell said the increase came after PNM Resources lowered the price of the ash to try to build the market and achieve goals stated in its 2004 environmental sustainability policy.

“What we’re learning as a company . . . you stop looking at these things strictly as waste products,” Buell said. “You start looking at them as commodities with value.”

He put the value of 2004’s sales in the “low six figures,” and less than 1 percent of the operating budget for the San Juan plant.

The fly ash is used as a partial cement replacement in concrete mixes, which typically consist of cement, fly ash, water, coarse gravel and fine sand, said Ernie Quintana, plant manager at Albuquerque Redi-Mix.

Several Albuquerque concrete companies put their annual fly ash consumption between 4,800 and 9,000 tons.

Fly ash’s advantages over cement include the malleability it adds to a concrete mix and the lengthening of concrete’s life, Albuquerque concrete experts say.

It’s also cheaper.

A representative of the company that buys the fly ash from PNM and resells it to concrete companies said the substance retails for considerably less than the $100 typically paid for a ton of cement.

On the environmental side of the equation, fly ash’s value is clear: For every ton of it used in concrete, one ton of carbon dioxide emissions is avoided, according to the American Coal Ash Association. That’s because producing cement releases carbon dioxide. Use less cement and less of it needs to be made.

Carbon dioxide is a suspected contributor to global warming, a rise in the average temperature of the planet that could potentially have serious consequences for life on Earth.

“The decision to do that (sell fly ash) supports the environmental sustainability policy,” Buell said. “But what really drove the decision was our desire to create a market for the fly ash.

“We wanted to stimulate sales. That was the real key business decision. That becomes a profit center at San Juan.”

PNM Resources also has recycling programs for cardboard, scrap metal, transformers, aluminum cans and paper. Buell said a plastics recycling program is in the works.

“This really is about the next generation and the generations to come,” he said. “We’ve got to find a ways as an industry and a society to lessen impacts and be better stewards of resources.”

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