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"Making use of volcanic ash" idea

Posted: Fri Nov 12, 2010 5:56 am UTC
by Steax
tl;dr: guy says that we can develop technology to make use of volcanic ash. Is it reasonable?

So a politician in Indonesia made this media statement (translated with minor omitted irrelevant bits, original here):

Emil Salim: We must take advantage of Merapi's eruption

Jakarta (ANTARA) - Member of the Presidential Advisory board from the Economy and Environmental group Emil Salim says that the recent eruption of Mt. Merapi must be taken advantage of in the future, for the people's welfare.

"In the future, material ejected by the volcanic eruption must be taken advantage of for our people's welfare," said Emil Salim during a press conference at the "International Youth Forum on Climate Change" held in Jakarta.

Emil explained that a lot of material is ejected from inside the earth during an eruption.

"The material can be in the form of sand, silica, lava, crystals and others, all launched out of the bowls of the earth in large quantities," he said.

The material, according to Emil, can be used to increase the local population's welfare and engage the local economy.

"For example, crystals can be used to make jewelry and home decoration, silica can be used to make glass and other material can be used for economical purposes," he explains.

Therefore, Emil suggest that once the eruption is over, the local people must quickly move to make use of whatever they can to re-start the economy.

"This is the local's chance to rebuild and develop new technology, particularly for the younger generation," he says.

He admits that it would be difficult for the people (t.n. mostly farmers) to plant crops in the sandy ground, or feed crops on dusty grass.

"But by advancing science, some kind of techno biology (t.n. he said "tekno biologi" literally without quotes), we could make a system to solve the problem," he says.

He pushes the local people and the younger generation to quickly start after Merapi settles down, in order to advance new technology and restart the local economy after the eruption.


So, is there even technology to make direct use of volcanic ash? I even thought that the amount of volcanic ash from an eruption wouldn't be very high on the ground - it's spread out over a large area and a lot of it is quickly carried away by rain and rivers. And even so, would it make sense to try making something out of it?

I also didn't know that actual crystals can be spewed out of a volcano directly.

Re: "Making use of volcanic ash" idea

Posted: Fri Nov 12, 2010 6:06 am UTC
by Sagekilla
The only problem is, ash tends to be a very fine powder. If they had a means of separating the
material into groups of useful things (glass, jewels, etc), then sure it would work fine.

But that depends on the level of technology in the area. I'm sure it's not completely inconceivable
to be able to recover materials from ash. It might just not cost effective at all.

If the volcano say, spewed a rock the size of your head, then maybe you might be able to mine it
for raw materials. But that wouldn't be really any different then just going to a mine and digging there.

Re: "Making use of volcanic ash" idea

Posted: Fri Nov 12, 2010 6:14 am UTC
by Steax
Does the silica in volcanic ash actually have any difference with that mined from, say, common sandstone?

I guess there might be a few cool shards of precious stones here and there that could be used, but I hardly think it's worth scooping up millions of tons of ash from a lot of space just to find more sand.

Re: "Making use of volcanic ash" idea

Posted: Fri Nov 12, 2010 6:28 am UTC
by Sagekilla
The only real difference might be in the proportion of material that's silica in either material.
Otherwise, silica is silica no matter where you get it from.

To be honest, it was a nice effort on the politician's part to bring hope to anyone who may be
suffering from the effects of the volcano. But beyond that, I don't think there's any actual practical
use in the ash that's around them.

Re: "Making use of volcanic ash" idea

Posted: Fri Nov 12, 2010 6:57 am UTC
by poxic
A light dusting of the stuff makes decent crop fertilizer. (A heavy carpeting isn't though.)

Re: "Making use of volcanic ash" idea

Posted: Sun Nov 14, 2010 1:24 am UTC
by Levi
Wasn't volcanic ash used in concrete by the Romans?

Re: "Making use of volcanic ash" idea

Posted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 3:07 am UTC
by GeorgeH
Asking the peasantry to start filtering for gold after a tsunami would be about as reasonable. Maybe somebody should ask that politician what the substantive economic difference is between dirt and volcanic material when one lives on a volcanic island.

Re: "Making use of volcanic ash" idea

Posted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 3:45 am UTC
by Izawwlgood
I thought volcanic ash made excellent fertilizer? An organized distribution of the eruption area ejecta could probably vastly boost the agricultural output?

Re: "Making use of volcanic ash" idea

Posted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 4:16 am UTC
by Steax
It is my personal opinion that the guy had no idea what he was talking about, and just wanted to say something to boost his own "look he's a politician who cares about the poor people" self-esteem. (The word "technobiology" probably says a lot.)

Yes, the ash is good for crops, but only when it's actually part of the soil. In it's current, 10-cm-deep-layer-of-sludge, it just makes everything look like a nightmare. It's pretty impossible to plant into as well, because the dust easily washes away with rainwater (to later re-solidify into a cement-like stone).

I'm just wondering if it's actually worth anything. Maybe it has better silica (fresher?) or something compared to your everyday pile of sand. My current research turns up nothing of value, though. And I don't really think volcanoes toss out large chunks of glistening rubies, do they? (Though some might be found among the rocks in the ejecta.)

Re: "Making use of volcanic ash" idea

Posted: Mon Nov 15, 2010 5:06 am UTC
by poxic
That's about the size of it. I think a few people around Mount St. Helen's made a few bucks selling small vials of "authentic Mt St Helen's ash" at the time, and some farmers who were a fair distance from the blast had a bonus to their annual crop.

The farmers closer to the mountain lost their crops that year. Lots of people had to spend a helluva lot of time and sweat clearing their property of the ash, most of which probably went into landfills or purpose-built dump sites. I doubt much money was made from the ash by anyone.

Re: "Making use of volcanic ash" idea

Posted: Tue Nov 23, 2010 1:11 pm UTC
by Hemmers
Izawwlgood wrote:I thought volcanic ash made excellent fertilizer? An organized distribution of the eruption area ejecta could probably vastly boost the agricultural output?


Can be. Depends on the specific volcano, because every one has a different composition. Too much sulphur and obviously you end up with acidic farmland (which could actually be a good thing if you're on very alkaline ground, although this is unlikely in the vicinity of a sulphurous volcano), although there's also other constituents like calcium which can counter this.

Also, you have to remember that volcanic "ash" is basically rock dust, not like ash we get off a fire, so turns into cement when mixed with water. In low densities it adds a number of minerals back into the ground. In high densities it just sits and clags the place up. Shipping excess material out to areas further afield could be beneficial, but usually that srt of agricultural program is bottom of the agenda, behind things like rebuilding homes and delivering humanitarian aid.
When you see guys in ash clouds wearing face masks, it's not for personal comfort but because if you breath enough volcano ash into your lungs it forms a cement with the fluid/moisture in your lungs. Which is an unpleasant way to go at best.

Re: "Making use of volcanic ash" idea

Posted: Wed Nov 24, 2010 2:35 am UTC
by Steax
Image

Considering the scale of the stuff, it looks quite impossible that people will want to try doing anything with the dust/ash once they're done cleaning it out. It'd probably be a logistics nightmare cleaning up, nobody will even want to try distributing it. Who knows, though.

(Image Credit: AP)

Re: "Making use of volcanic ash" idea

Posted: Wed Nov 24, 2010 10:20 am UTC
by Agent_Irons
You could heat in and melt it into a sort of terrible glass, if you really wanted. But there would be far too much ash and far too little need for low-quality glass to make it practicable.

Re: "Making use of volcanic ash" idea

Posted: Fri Dec 03, 2010 2:50 am UTC
by spxdcp
how about tossing it back into the volcano? we have the tech to deliver the payload..