One of the constituent materials used to manufacture aircrete blocks is Pulverised Fuel Ash (PFA) which is produced during the generation of electricity from coal fired power stations. PFA is by no means the only material that can be used to manufacture aircrete blocks, but many members of The Aircrete Product Association use PFA as the primary raw material for block production.
It has been government policy for many years to gradually phase out electricity generation from the burning of coal, turning instead to gas, renewables and nuclear generation. This is a situation which is being managed by members. Several options are gradually replacing fresh PFA from UK power stations including the use of stockpiled ash, importing of ash and the replacement of PFA with other constituent materials. An increasing use of these alternatives has helped the sector increase its production output over the last three years to meet rising demand.
While this is an ongoing process and will enable aircrete block manufacturers to meet demand in the years to come, there is a short-term issue. A very mild winter coupled with low gas and oil prices reduced the production volume from the UK’s remaining coal-fired power stations with a consequent reduction in the volume of immediately available fresh PFA. The mild winter also enabled construction to continue throughout a period that typically experiences a slow down.
Inevitably, some Aircrete Product Association members have experienced some loss of production volumes as a result. This has accelerated plans to adopt alternative materials, and the use of stockpiled ash which is abundant due to the prevalence of coal fired power stations in the last century. The impact on production is being closely monitored and managed. They have worked with customers to manage the impact on supply and continue to do so.
Specifically customers and members have worked and continue to work closely together to help ensure that orders received are to meet demand and that the inevitable degree of stock-piling that always accompanies unpredicted spikes in demand is limited where possible.
Throughout the winter, a more normal gas supply market and more typical seasonal temperatures should increase the volume of PFA production once more, which should ease the situation for all manufacturers. In the longer term, as coal fired power stations are phased out, the use of stockpiled ash and the increased use of other constituent materials will ensure the long term sustainability of aircrete production in the UK.
members will continue to communicate on a regular basis to update the market and are actively exploring all alternatives to support their customers, and the relationships developed over many years.
The Aircrete Product Association is the product association representing UK Aircrete manufacturers and is part of the British Precast Concrete Federation.