Research Project Information

Research Project Summary Information

Lumber from Coal-combustion Fly Ash:Foamed Structural Lumber(ST4381-1)

Home Innovation Research Labs, Inc.


Nearly 80% of the fly ash generated in the U.S. by coal-fired power plants is disposed of in slurry ponds, old mines, and landfills at a cost of $40 per ton. If a beneficial use could be found for this material, utilities could avoid the disposal fee. Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. has teamed with Ecomat, Inc. to develop a process to use fly ash to foam thermoset polystyrene into a product that could be substituted for lumber. A laboratory facility and prototype pilot plant would be sited in Central Hudson's service territory as a result of these efforts.

Map Error

Project Description

Under the project, Ecomat and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Research Center were to identify potential lumber products to be made at the pilot production facility; evaluate the use of various chemical formulations and reinforcing strategies to ensure potential lumber products have required material properties; and mold prototypes at the pilot production facility. They were also to test prototypes to determine their abilities to meet structural and building code requirements; produce and test final engineering prototypes of a composite structural beam and dimensional lumber replacement; and develop and evaluate a production process for the most promising prototype at the pilot production facility. Finally, they were to complete marketing analyses for the most promising lumber products.


Using plastic lumber could save energy for heating and cooling buildings by increasing the R-value of walls. A new beneficial use for fly ash would be developed, diverting this material from landfills. Jobs also would be created by establishing a new manufacturer in the State of New York.

Project Results

Several product concepts using different reinforcing strategies and chemical formulations were developed and evaluated. Prototype products were developed that achieved structural properties comparable with dimensional lumber. These prototypes were found to have structural properties exceeding those for competing plastic lumber products. Two focus groups were conducted to gauge the market response to these products. These focus groups were impressed by the product’s aesthetic appearance and felt it would be favorably received if the product performed as presented. The projected cost of the prototype products was determined to be more than competing products due to reinforcements and “batch” production methods. The cost for these products could be significantly reduced if more continuous methods were adopted.


Home Innovation Research Labs, Inc.
400 Prince George's Blvd.
Upper Marlboro, MD 20774

Principle Investigator

Chris Fennell

Universities Involved


Project Type:

Product Development

Technologies Types:

Building Systems

NYSERDA Contact Information

Robert Carver


R&D - Buildings Research

Contract Details

Start Date: 1/11/2010
Project Status: Active
Contract Number: ST4381-1

Last Updated: 8/27/2012