It is a very difficult task to convert a wasteland to greenery. It becomes all the more challenging if the land has accumulation of toxic ash that has resulted from thermal power stations. Nearly 30,000 hectares of land have become unfit for use owing to fly ash accumulation from about 70 thermal power plants in India. The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) has found ways to reclaim the fly ash dumps using mycorrhizal technology. The vast stretch of greenery near the power plants at Badarpur (Delhi), Korba (Chattisgarh) and Vijayawada (Andhra Pradesh) stand testimony to the success of this technology.
Combustion of coal produces fine solid particles of ash, dust and soot containing toxic elements like lead, arsenic, cadmium, cobalt, silica, mercury, etc. all of which are hazardous to health. Fly ash is dumped as slurry in ash dumps, from which the toxic metals seep into the ground, severely contaminating the groundwater. Also, these toxic elements lower the soil fertility, harm the aquatic plants and disturb the food chain.
The realistic approach
TERI's researchers had identified certain strains of naturally occurring mycorrhizal fungi that provide nutritional support and high level of stress tolerance to the plants. These were applied to plants on fly ash dumps in Korba Super Thermal Power Station with additional doses of organic and Mycorrhizal fertilizers. The fungi form a reciprocating relationship with the living roots by providing nutrition to plants from the substrate and receive carbon in turn from them. The mycelial network of the Mycorrhizal fungi, accumulate heavy metal from fly ash and retain them in their living cells. In a short period of time, the grey, toxic fly ash laden waste land was converted to that of green vegetation. The technology was successfully replicated in Badarpur and Vijayawada Thermal Power Stations.
Having met with success in the implementation of the technology in the thermal power plants, TERI researchers plan to conduct several multi-location demonstrations. This reclamation technology is promising enough to convert the 30 000- odd hectares of fly ash dumps in India into a huge commercial proposition.
Light of Hope
For sustainable reclamation of fly ash dumps and to create lush green expanses in the area, mycorrhizal technology holds great promise.