Fate of Heavy Metals in Valorization of Municipal Solid Waste Incineration Ash

2018 Faculty Research Award

Award Period: 2018-2020

Claire White, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering and the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment, is examining how ash from incinerating municipal waste can be safely repurposed as a construction material. As urban populations expand globally, incineration is an increasingly viable disposal method for trash and human waste. In addition to being used to generate electricity, waste burning produces a “bottom” ash that is high in silicon, calcium, iron and aluminum oxides. White will use ash collected from incineration facilities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey to examine how this byproduct can be more efficiently converted into a low-carbon construction material. She will focus on identifying heavy metals present in the ash, the extent to which they leach into the environment, and how these toxins can be locked into cement after manufacture.

Educational Impacts

Individual stages of this research will be integrated into projects for undergraduate senior theses, independent-study projects and/or two summer internships per year. The research topic, objectives and outcomes will be incorporated into courses White teaches, specifically the undergraduate course ENE 267: “Materials for Energy Technologies and Efficiency” and the graduate-level ENE 506: “Synchrotron and Neutron Studies of Energy Materials.” The ENE 267 course — which already includes a lecture on industrial byproducts in construction materials — will now include a field trip to the Covanta waste incinerator in Camden, New Jersey. For the graduate course, data collected and analyzed in this project will be included in a computer-based laboratory where students analyze real experiment data and submit lab reports based on their analyses.

Participating Department

Collaborating Institutions


Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Graduate Students

Undergraduate Students

  • Mileny Torres, Class of 2019