Physical and chemical properties of coarse coal refuse from Southwest Virginia

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Virginia Tech

Coarse coal refuse is difficult to reclaim due to high potential acidity and coarse fragment content, low water holding capacity, low fertility, and other problems. Little is known about coal refuse properties, particularly as they relate to revegetation potential. This study was undertaken to determine the physical and chemical properties of composite samples from 27 coal waste piles of varying age. Selected physical and chemical properties varied widely across this sample set. The mean coarse fragment (>2mm) content of these materials was 60%. The average texture of the fine (<2mm) fraction was a sandy loam with 15% clay. The mean water retention difference, between 0.03 MPa and 1.5 MPa of soil moisture tension, on a whole sample basis was 0.08 g water/g refuse. The pH values varied from 8.3 to 3.0, and the older piles generally had lower pH values than the more recent piles. The saturated paste electrical conductivity (EC) was higher in the younger coal waste materials. Total elemental analysis revealed that Si, Al, Fe, and K were the most abundant elements in these materials. The mineralogy of three selected samples was found to be dominated by quartz in the sand and silt fraction and mica in the clay fraction. The physical factor most limiting to plant growth was found to be low water holding capacity. Low pH was found to be the chemical factor most limiting to plant survival. These findings indicate that some refuse piles may be suitable for direct seeding, but many will require heavy lime and/or organic treatments.