D. Glass Associates, Inc.
"U.S. and International Markets for Phytoremediation,1999-2000" by David J. Glass, Ph.D.

Executive Summary

"The 2000 Phytoremediation Industry",
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Phytoremediation: A Versatile Technology with Many Potential Applications

Phytoremediation is the use of plants, including trees, grasses and aquatic plants, to remove, destroy or sequester hazardous substances from the environment. It is an emerging technology for environmental remediation that offers promise as a low-cost, versatile technique suitable for use against a number of different types of contaminants in a variety of media.

Several different types of phytoremediation are being used commercially, or are in advanced stages of research and development. Some applications rely simply on plants' ability to accumulate large quantities of certain contaminants ("phytoextraction") or to take up and transpire large amounts of water from the soil and groundwater (creation of hydraulic barriers). Contaminants can also be removed from aqueous wastestreams by absorption onto plant roots ("rhizofiltration"). In other applications, the contaminants are degraded or metabolized within the plant ("phytotransformation"), sometimes coupled with volatilization into the air from plant biomass ("phytovolatilization"); in other applications, contaminants are degraded in the soil by the action of secreted plant enzymes (in one form of phytotransformation) or by plant stimulation of microbial biodegradative activity ("phytostimulation"), or contaminants are immobilized in the soil by plant exudates ("phytostabilization"). Finally, plants' ability to extract large amounts of metals from soils can be exploited to recover metals of economic value from ore deposits and other soils ("phytomining").

Phytoremediation Applications
Soil Water
Phytoextraction Rhizofiltration
Phytostabilization Hydraulic Barriers
Phytostimulation Vegetative Caps
Phytovolatilization Constructed Wetlands
A variety of naturally-occurring and specially-selected plant species are used in phytoremediation. A number of terrestrial and aquatic plants are known to be natural hyperaccumulators of metals, but since these tend to be slow growers, researchers have turned to other species, more recently identified or selected, as more promising commercial candidates. Deep-rooted trees such as poplar, willow and cottonwood are most commonly used for applications requiring withdrawal of large amounts of water from the subsurface, while a number of different plants, trees and grasses are used to stimulate microbial degradation of organic contaminants in soil. Among plants at earlier stages of research are plants and trees expressing biodegradative enzymes, halophytic (salt-loving) plants, and transgenic (genetically engineered) plants created to meet specific marketplace needs.

Phytoremediation is potentially applicable to a diversity of substances, including most of the more prevalent environmental contaminants. Early work involving metal hyperaccumulators focused attention on the technology's applicability to heavy metals and radionuclides. However, phytoremediation has also been demonstrated against other inorganic contaminants like arsenic and various salts and nutrients (e.g. nitrate), and on a variety of organic contaminants, including chlorinated solvents, explosives, petroleum hydrocarbons, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, and pesticides.

U.S. and International Phytoremediation Activities: Growing Industries, Active Research Communities

The U.S. phytoremediation industry consists of several dozen companies falling within discrete categories. Most visible are the dedicated phytoremediation companies, whose sole or primary remediation technology is phytoremediation, but a related category includes other specialty companies, diversifying into hazardous waste or wastewater phytoremediation from areas such as constructed wetlands. The next most active segment includes a number of the large to midsize consulting/engineering firms that have developed an expertise in phytoremediation. The number of these firms with credible phytoremediation expertise has grown since our last report. Also part of the "industry", although generally not conducting commercial remediations, are several industrial companies, who conduct research or field remediations for internal needs, and a large number of academic, government, and other non-profit research groups conducting research and developing new technologies.

Although at an early stage of its growth, the U.S. phytoremediation industry appears to be developing similarly to other industry sectors devoted to innovative remediation technologies. The dedicated companies drive much of the innovation, and dominate the market in its early days, but run the risk of seeing the market dominated over time by larger, diversified companies, once the technology is better proven and the necessary expertise more widely disseminated. In phytoremediation's case, competition is also faced from specialty companies such as nurseries, plant breeders, agricultural biotechnology companies and other firms having expertise in plant agriculture, some of which have already begun to show an interest in phytoremediation. In the past year, competition from the specialty sector has not emerged to any significant degree, while a more formidable challenge has come from the growing number of consulting/engineering firms now servicing the phytoremediation market.

    Key Market Trends, 1998 to 1999
  • The U.S. market has nearly doubled in size, due to increased acceptance and more companies in the market.
  • More consulting/engineering firms are offering phytoremediation services, leading to greater competition for jobs.
  • Most phytoremediation field work has been directed at organic or inorganic contaminants, and the metals sector has been slower to emerge.
  • Substantial laboratory and field work is taking place in Canada and Europe; but commercial markets are still developing.
A significant number of companies with phytoremediation experience have emerged outside the U.S., and have created growing industries in Canada and in several European countries. There are at least ten companies in Canada and maybe as many as 20 companies in Europe who are conducting research or who have carried out commercial remediations using phytoremediation or related technologies. Most of these companies would be considered "diversifying specialty companies", but they include a number of consulting/engineering firms, particularly in Canada, and some dedicated phytoremediation firms. For the most part, many of these companies are pursuing phytoremediation at the research stage only, but numerous commercial projects have been undertaken in several countries around the world.

Industrial activities are complemented by academic and government research efforts. In addition to a thriving research community in the U.S., there is a great deal of excellent research being conducted in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere in the world. Through the funding efforts of the European Union (EU) and the unifying effects of the Internet, international research collaborations and consortia have been formed, which should help coordinate activities and reduce possible duplication of efforts. The U.S. government has funded a good deal of research and a number of demonstration projects, and the same is beginning to be true about national governments around the world, and in the EU.

One strategy for small, dedicated companies to pursue to protect their market position would be to develop proprietary, patent-protected technology, such as novel plant varieties, genetically engineered plants, or proprietary soil additives. However, the research to develop such technologies is time-consuming and expensive, and past experience has cast serious doubt on the ability of the environmental market and its small profit margins to support advanced research, particularly biological research. In spite of such obstacles, we believe that transgenic plants will play an important role in commercial phytoremediation, within the next two to four years.

The Growing Track Record of Commercial Projects and Field Demonstrations

Phytoremediation has been carried out commercially or demonstrated at pilot scale at perhaps 200 sites in the U.S., involving all of the many contaminant categories to which phytoremediation may be applicable. In addition to projects completed by dedicated phytoremediation firms and consulting/engineering firms, there are a number of demonstration projects underway, many of which are funded, supported, or conducted by U.S. federal government agencies. The goals of many of these projects include the generation of economic and technical data to support the efficacy of phytoremediation in specific remediation scenarios.

There have also been a number of field tests, demonstrations, and commercial remediations in Canada and Europe. Projects in Canada have generally involved either remediation of petroleum hydrocarbons or heavy metals. Research projects in Europe have focused to a large extent on heavy metal and radionuclide pollution, although there has also been limited field work on hydrocarbon contamination. Both these regions have only recently begun the transition from academic research to commercial remediation projects.

The United States Phytoremediation Market: Established and Rapidly Growing

Phytoremediation's market success will be governed by many factors, not least of which are its own strengths and weaknesses. Among its greatest advantages are its low cost (although solid economic data are generally still lacking), the fact that it is a permanent, in situ technology, its applicability to a wide variety of contaminants, and its attractiveness to the general public. Among limitations are that some phytoremediation activities are slower than competing remedial technologies, the limitation of some applications to shallow soils or groundwater, the inherent limitations of biological systems, and regulatory unfamiliarity.

Phytoremediation faces other barriers to market acceptance as well, ones that are common to all innovative technologies. These include the need to prove efficacy and cost-effectiveness to site owners, consultants and regulators, various barriers and biases embodied in environmental laws and regulations that favor traditional technologies over newer ones, and the challenges of the changing climate for remediation in the U.S., where economic factors are replacing regulatory factors as driving forces. However, these obstacles may be mitigated by prospects for regulatory relaxation, and the possibility that the new economic climate may favor low-cost technologies that can address the riskiest portions of contaminated sites. Phytoremediation's growth may also be assisted by a number of U.S. government programs for the promotion of innovative technologies.

Phytoremediation is applicable to a number of hazardous waste and other remedial scenarios, which offer sizable potential markets. Markets for remediation of organics, metals and radionuclides from soils and water, combined with municipal and industrial wastewater treatment markets, the treatment of polluted runoff, primarily including landfill leachate, and the market for removing inorganic contaminants such as nitrate from drinking water supplies, offer a total potential market size of U.S. $33.8-49.7 billion per year.

The largest 1999 U.S. markets for phytoremediation are for treatment of organic contaminants in groundwater, with revenues estimated at $7-12 million, control of landfill leachate, approximately $5-8 million, remediation of organics in soil, estimated at $5-7 million, and remediation of metals from soil, perhaps about $4.5-6 million. Other significant markets are for removal of nonmetallic inorganics from groundwater and wastewater, and the remediation of metals from groundwater. In general, the markets involving organic and nonmetallic inorganic contaminants should see strong, steady growth in the coming years, while the markets involving metals or radionuclides are capable of dramatic growth as the technology's efficacy becomes better established.

Estimated 1999 U.S. Phytoremediation Markets
Organics in groundwater
$ 7-12 million
Landfill leachate
$ 5-8 million
Organics in soil
$ 5-7 million
Metals in soil
$ 4.5-6.0 million
Inorganics in wastewater
$ 2-4 million
Inorganics in groundwater
$ 2-3 million
Organics in wastewater
$ 1-2 million
Metals in groundwater
$ 1-2 million
$ 0.5-1.0 million
Metals in wastewater
$ 0.1-0.2 million
$ 1.9-3.8 million
$30-49 million
Copyright 1999 by D. Glass Associates, Inc.
The estimated 1999 U.S. market represents a significant increase from our estimates of 1998 revenues, and is close to a doubling of the market in one year's time. Although most companies in the U.S. industry continue to do well, and have been awarded a significant number of phytoremediation projects, not all companies have necessarily increased their phytoremediation revenues relative to 1998. We attribute the market increase to the increased number of companies now offering services to this market, particularly companies in the consulting/engineering sector, and to growing acceptance of the technology. However, our current estimates of 1999 and 2000 revenues are slightly lower than what we had previously projected for these years, which is largely attributable to the fact that phytoremediation applications for metals and radionuclides appear to have been slower to reach commercial markets than we had previously anticipated.

We estimate the total U.S. phytoremediation market in 1999 to be $30-49 million, and that the market will grow to $50-86 million by 2000, to $100-170 million by 2002 and $235-400 million by 2005. Although our 1999 and 2000 estimates indicate somewhat slower growth than predicted last year, our estimate for 2005 is slightly higher than last year's estimate, and we remain optimistic that phytoremediation will continue to show strong market growth in the early years of the new decade.

International Markets for Phytoremediation: Emerging Opportunities

Although the United States represents the largest environmental market in the world, markets for environmental goods and services, including remediation of contaminated soil and water, exist elsewhere in the world, particularly in industrialized nations. Smaller, but emerging, markets exist in developing nations, particularly in portions of Asia. The total world remediation market in 1998 was approximately U.S. $15-18 billion/year.

The next largest environmental market after the U.S. is found in Europe, particularly in the European Union. With an estimated remediation market of U.S. $2-4 billion/year, it is a sizable market, with excellent opportunities for growth in the coming years as more countries upgrade their environmental laws and regulations to be in accordance with EU standards, and as more countries inventory and prioritize their contaminated sites. The current remediation market in Canada is perhaps U.S. $1-2 billion, and also offers good opportunities for growth.

Estimated 1999 World
Phytoremediation Markets
United States
$ 30-49 million
$ 2-5 million
$ 1-2 million
$ 1-2 million
$ 34-58 million
Copyright 1999 by D. Glass Associates, Inc.
There are approximately 400,000 contaminated sites in Western Europe. While not all are priorities for remediation, it is estimated that EU nations may spend as much as U.S. $400 billion to clean these sites over the next 20-25 years. There are many more, as yet uncounted, polluted sites in Central and Eastern Europe nations as well.


Phytoremediation is already practiced commercially in Canada, Europe, and several other countries; however, the current markets outside the U.S. are believed to be small. We estimate 1999 Canadian phytoremediation revenues at U.S. $1-2 million, and European revenues at $2-5 million. Both regions show significant potential for growth in the early years of the new century.

Although there is little commercial phytoremediation activity outside these major world regions, we are optimistic about phytoremediation's ultimate international market potential. Many countries, including the former Soviet bloc countries and many developing nations in Asia and Latin America, have significant problems of improper landfilling and wastewater treatment. Although site remediation is generally not a priority in these countries, phytoremediation is capable of addressing certain of the high priority issues including wastewater treatment and control of leachate from uncontrolled dumping sites so these markets may present opportunities for phytoremediation which would not present themselves for other remedial technologies. These markets might offer opportunities for market growth later in the first decade of the 21st Century.

Copyright 1999 by D. Glass Associates, Inc. All rights reserved.

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