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Turning mine into yours

Researchers help the environment by turning old coal mines into usable green space
Across Ohio, more than 200,000 acres of land once used for coal mining sit empty, presenting dangers to the public and potentially harming the environment by releasing acid mine drainage and sediments into nearby lakes and streams.

Thanks to an Ohio State researcher and his team, these lands won’t be unusable for much longer.

Using coal-burning power plant waste that would otherwise go to the landfill, Tarunjit Singh Butalia is working to reclaim this land, or fill it using design and engineering technology, to convert it to usable, sustainable green space that can be enjoyed by hikers, bikers and other nature enthusiasts.

The reuse of the waste, called coal combustion residues, provides a low-cost raw construction material, extends the life of landfills and lessens the need for new ones, and helps keep energy production costs in check.

President Drake with management
Tarunjit Singh Butalia, an Ohio State researcher, explains to Ohio State President Michael V. Drake and others how abandoned coal mines are filled in and returned to sustainable, usable land.
Creek bed
Butalia and his team have been focusing on reclaiming land near an AEP coal-fired power plant in Coshocton County. This image shows what the mine looked like before Dr. Butalia and his team began their work. When coal is burned to produce energy, waste, called “coal combustion products,” is left behind. Butalia and his team figured out how to use this material to fill in land where the coal mine once existed.
Dirt road
Here, they’ve used material to begin filling in the land. Butalia says using the coal waste is environmentally friendly because otherwise it would go to a landfill. “These reclamation projects can reduce the environmental risks abandoned mined lands cause,” he says. Researchers then worked with AEP to plant native grasses and more than 11,000 trees at the site.
Grassy field
The result is usable, sustainable land. Butalia and his team are working on reclaiming land at other former coal mines across Ohio.