3. Environmental Quality

3. Environmental Quality

The global market for all environmental technologies was estimated at $300 billion for 1992 and is projected to grow to $425 billion by 1997. While the U.S. is expected to continue to be the largest single market, $134 billion in 1992, growth in other geographic areas such as Latin America, Canada, Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union, is expected to outpace the U.S. market growth. In fact, these figures may underestimate the true size of the market because pollution prevention investments are not always recorded as such.

Critical technologies in the environmental quality category fall into three general areas:

Monitoring and Assessment
Remediation and Restoration
Pollution Avoidance and Control

Technologies in the Monitoring and Assessment area include integrated environmental monitoring and remote assessment of biosystems. The former contribute to such national goals as the health of the U.S. population, job creation and economic growth, the efficiency of the physical infrastructure, and the ability for ecosystem management and ex-post monitoring and evaluation to understand how humans interact with the environment. These technologies also contribute to national security and warfighting capabilities by, for example, helping to assure non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and by providing accurate information about battlefield environments, thus increasing troop effectiveness and reducing casualties. Within this area, Russia is behind the United States in remote sensing technologies; the United States leads in satellite-based, multi-spectral data processing technology capability, followed by Russia (based on military capability), France, and Japan; and in the specific area of qualitative risk assessment tools, Europe lags the United States, with Japan further behind.

Development of timely and cost-effective remediation and restoration technologies is critical, both to reduce costs to the U.S. economy in addressing indigenous contamination problems and to promote U.S. competitiveness in global remediation markets. These technologies can contribute to job creation and economic growth, both by creating new jobs and by helping reduce clean-up cost liabilities faced by many manufacturers and can contribute to the health of the U.S. population by reducing risks associated with contaminants in the environment. There is general parity between the United States and Europe in bioremediation technology--the United States has conducted more basic research in this area, but Europe has successfully used U.S. technology for relatively large-scale, on-site remediation efforts. While Japanese firms are capable of being major players in bioremediation technology, they appear to lag slightly in actual demonstration of this capability. In nuclear wastes storage and disposal, Europe is slightly ahead of the United States in technologies for decontamination and decommissioning of nuclear reactors, with Japanese firms at about the same technology level as U.S. firms.

Pollution avoidance and control technologies contribute to the security of food, water, and air, to lowering costs of research and development activities, and to the health of the population. Foreign firms are slightly behind U.S. firms in separation technologies, although Europe is ahead in nuclear applications because of the policy decision to manage waste as it is produced rather than to accumulate it for future treatment. In non-nuclear separation technologies, European firms are behind U.S. firms, who have superior technology. Japanese firms are behind U.S. firms in both nuclear and non-nuclear separation technologies.

Overall, although the United States is currently a leader in many technologies in this category, trends indicate that other countries are making progress in attaining the same level of technology. The specifics of the assessment are presented in the text of the section. The summary of the U.S. relative position and trends from 1990 to 1994 are shown in Figure 3.1.

Monitoring and Assessment

Environmental monitoring and assessment technologies are critical for understanding and predicting changes in the environment and for responding to the many pressing environmental problems which we currently face. Key technologies for environmental monitoring and assessment range from the macro level down to the micro and even molecular/nano level: satellite-based systems; airborne, land-based and ocean-based systems; networked monitoring systems; micro electromechanical systems and biomarkers. Such systems monitor at all levels: global; biosphere; ecosystems; regions; cities; towns; individual factories and homes; individual persons and organisms; to individual genes and chromosomes. Environmental issues that they monitor include: global warming, ozone depletion, regional air quality, biodiversity loss, point source emissions of air, water and hazardous waste, indoor air quality, noise pollution, and human health effects at the gene/chromosome level.

Integrated environmental monitoring

During the past few years, there has been increasing attention paid to the monitoring and control of pollution and other forms of environmental damage. The integration of the sensors, deployed to monitor various parameters in the environment, with the analysis of the information they collect, is an example of an integrated system. More specific examples include the environmental controls on power plants, both solid fuel and nuclear, the monitoring of acid rain damage in a forest, or an airborne military system to monitor chemical signatures over a suspected chemical weapons plant.

Integrated environmental monitoring technologies contribute to several national goals. By providing data which permit assessment of environmental effects on health, as well as by increasing food security through better monitoring and prediction of natural disasters, these technologies contribute to the health of the U.S. population. Environmental monitoring technologies also contribute to job creation and economic growth in a variety of ways. These technologies provide the basis on which the success of the "clean car" produced by Partnership for the New Generation Vehicle can be judged and on which environmentally friendly construction designs can be based. They contribute to the efficiency of physical infrastructure by providing a basis for a better understanding of how climate and weather affect transportation. They provide the basis on which energy production and utilization methods can be judged for their environmental effects. Finally, these technologies provide data which are a prerequisite for ecosystem management and ex post monitoring and evaluation for understanding interaction of humans with the environment.

Integrated monitoring and assessment technologies can make a significant contribution to our national security as well. By providing the ability to identify developing environmental disasters which may cause social and political turmoil and even conflict between nations, we may be able to intercede to prevent or mitigate such destabilizing events. This could, in turn, reduce the number and intensity of humanitarian relief efforts that are expensive in terms of manpower, materials, and national will. At a finer scale, that ability to monitor the physical environmental conditions on the battlefield can provide a warfighting advantage, and provide information with which simulations for future possible missions can be constructed as means of training. Environmental monitoring technologies are also essential to assuring non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Assessments of capability in integrated environmental monitoring using space-based systems are greatly complicated by the links between civil and military technology. Although many of the core technologies for commercial remote sensing are available from developments in the information industry and from such projects as the Hubble Space Telescope, the leading edge has always been defined by classified systems. As part of the defense conversion process, however, governments are increasingly willing to release portions of this classified knowhow to the civil sector. At present, Russia is only slightly behind the United States in remote sensing technologies. The Russians currently are marketing photographs down to 2-meter resolution and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) images down to 15-meter resolution. The French plan to launch SPOT 5 by 1998 with a 5-meter resolution, compared to current SPOT capability of 10 meters. The Europeans plan to launch a military system, Helios 1, in early 1995 with a 1-3 meter digital visible spectrum capability, but have stated that the system will not be commercialized. Currently, Japanese technology is at 8-meter resolution for visible light, 16-meters for multispectral (ADEOS scientific satellite to be launched in 1996), and about 18-meters for SAR as demonstrated in the JERS already in orbit. Japan plans to have a system by 2000 that would increase ground resolution to 2.5-meter visible light, 10- meter multispectral, and less than 8-meter for SAR.

The United States is currently the leader in satellite-based, multi-spectral data processing technology capability, followed by Russia (based on military capability), France, and Japan. Environmental monitoring is a fertile area for international cooperation, including cooperation in space- based monitoring with the Former Soviet Union-- Russian platforms, such as the K-1870, ALMAZ and a possible follow- on, equipped with a variety of sensors, together with a body of published theoretical work, are indicative of Russian capability in multi-spectral processing. Russia, however, lags in applying this knowhow to environmental issues. The French SPOT and Japan's ERS-1 follow closely behind. Japanese industry has demonstrated significant progress in combining sensors and processing on the same chip; prototypes of multilayer imaging arrays with built-in primitive image processing functions have been developed. This work has expanded to include research in combined neural network/fuzzy logic devices. (See Information and Communications for basic discussion of sensors, large scale systems, and software capabilities.)

In the specific area of qualitative risk assessment tools, Europe currently lags the United States with Japan further behind. There is increasing financial, legal, and political pressure throughout Europe to change from the current statute concentration limits methodology to a qualitative risk assessment methodology as a more appropriate means of prioritizing environmental problems and making more efficient use of their limited financial resources. Within Europe (particularly Germany and the Netherlands), the principle approach to risk assessment has been based on various country lists that contain maximum concentrations for specific contaminations in soil, soil gas, and groundwater. If maximum concentrations are exceeded, investigative or remedial action is required and the appropriate action is taken to bring concentrations under the acceptable maximum limit. Recently, efforts in Switzerland and the United Kingdom are underway to alter their statute concentration limit approach in favor of a quantitative risk assessment for each contaminated site. In this approach, a risk factor is derived and used to generate a remedial action plan and lay out remediation goals. This risk assessment approach is similar to the quantitatively driven U.S. methodology. The quantitative values are derived from health and environmental degradation parameters at each site rather than legal standards which are applied to all sites. The Swiss developed risk assessment program called "ChemRisk," a useful tool for the objective assessment of health risks posed by contaminated sites.

Remote assessment of biosystems

Monitoring and management of large scale biosystems is increasingly important as a human activities have an increasing impact on global change. On an immediate basis we are faced with the problems of sustainable fisheries and forestry management. Longer term are the problems of air pollution's impact on regional forests, erosion, and watershed maintenance, and ultimately the functioning of forests and photoplankton in balancing atmospheric gases.

While higher resolution, multi-spectral satellite imagery will place an impressive demand on information and communications systems, and the related ability to store, access and display the raw data, interpretation will place unprecedented demands on technologies for acquiring and integrating ground truth data. Coupling ground truth data and pattern recognition will be necessary for meaningful monitoring, science and management. This would contribute improved environmental quality by supporting the development of a scientific basis for ecosystem management.

The remote assessment of biosystems is highly dependent on multi-spectral imaging (either satellite-based or high altitude photography) and the subsequent correlation with ground-truth data to adjust for species specific signatures and variability caused by trace minerals, plant hydration, plant seasonality and maturity, and atmospheric contaminants. The United States is the clear leader in the technologies needed for image acquisition and processing, and has also led in efforts to correlate image data with changes in the status of crops and forestry with significant efforts dating to the ERTS and LandSat satellite series, and more recent efforts to correlate the emergence of disease vectors and crop blights with multi-spectral changes in large area surveys. Recent analysis of multi-spectral space-based radar images has demonstrated the ability to differentiate plant types and moisture information via microwave reflectance characteristics. The space based radar capability can complement optical data to provide a richer environment for data analysis.

While the US is the clear leader in the underlying hardware- based technologies of image acquisition and the algorithms for computer analysis, there is a great deal of field work to be done concurrently to provide the physical bio-system status. The European efforts in this area are substantial, but limited by factors related to their actual investment in hardware, software, and field work in both the agricultural and environmental sciences. The commercial availability of high resolution imagery will certainly expand the access to data, but will still require substantial work on computer algorithms and field research in order to convert the images to useful imformation on crop estimates, and the effects of atmospheric changes on the status and productivity of forests.

Pollution Control

Pollution control

Pollution control technologies render hazardous substances harmless before they enter the environment. These technologies include the treatment of pollutants or other natural or anthropogenic materials to eliminate or reduce environmental and human health hazards, or the reduction of pollutant/waste material volume or mobility to make subsequent management more effective. An example is the use of precipitators in fossil-fueled power plants to remove particulates from waste gas streams. Subsequent treatment of the pollutants is often required after their removal from the process streams. Another example is the use of catalytic converters on automobiles to convert combustion byproducts to less harmful substances prior to exhausting them. Other control technologies (also called "end-of-pipe" technologies) include incineration, separation, oxidation , reduction, bioprocessing, absorption, filtration, and neutralization.

Pollution control technologies also contribute to the security of food, water, and air. As worldwide environmental regulations become stricter, companies that develop and sell pollution control technologies will gain a competitive advantage. Increased sales of pollution control products and processes would contribute to job creation and economic growth in the U.S., particularly in Manufacturing, Transportation and Utilities, Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing, and Mining sectors. These technologies also substantially contribute to lowering costs to research and development activities because they facilitate management of mixed wastes generated as an unavoidable by-product. Such wastes currently constitute a significant financial burden and potential liability for the R&D communities involved.

Waste elimination is part of pollution control. Waste elimination technologies contribute to the health of the population by providing a reduction in environmental causes of disease. As a larger waste disposal industry is created, these technologies also contribute to job creation and economic growth through the fabrication and sales of equipment based on these technologies. Waste elimination technologies also contribute to national security by providing means of safe disposal for waste from reduction in nuclear stockpiles.

Foreign firms are slightly behind firms in the United States in separation technologies. European firms are closest to U.S. firms in capabilities and have some areas of leadership. In particular, Europe is ahead in nuclear applications because of the policy decision to manage waste as it is produced rather than to accumulate it for future treatment. An active reprocessing effort, led by the French with contributions from the United Kingdom has given Europe a strong lead over the rest of the world. German work has accelerated in the last few years because of concern about decontamination problems in the former East Germany. In non- nuclear separation environmental applications, European firms are behind firms in the United States. Europe may have a somewhat more favorable regulatory environment which permits technologies to be more readily implemented, but U.S. technology capability is superior. Europe's position could improve as a result of the introduction of skilled technical talent from eastern Europe together with increased resource commitments required to deal with the serious environmental problems there.

Japanese firms are behind U.S. firms in separation technologies. Japan's lag in nuclear applications may be a result of a research strategy of concentrating on reactor and fuel technology and relying on foreign work for waste treatment technology. There is some good Japanese R&D in transuranic separations, other radionuclide separations, and noble metal recovery, although much of it is an extension of U.S. and European work. Japan is also behind slightly in non-nuclear separation, but is doing good work in hydrometallurgy.

Remediation and Restoration

Remediation and restoration

Remediation technologies render hazardous substances less harmful after they have entered the environment, and restoration technologies renew and renovate ecosystems which have been damaged or changed, especially those which have declined due to anthropogenic effects. Together these technologies seek to redress existing environmental problems, and thus are especially important in the near term, that is, over the next ten to twenty years.

The current state of the art in remediation technology is unlikely to fully meet even basic requirements for remediating difficult contamination problems, much less to meet goals for achieving remediation in a cost effective and timely manner. Early "treatment" methods such as dig-and- store or incineration tend to be high-cost and to carry risks for further contamination. Some recently developed innovative technologies have found growing application. A report by EPA's Technology Innovation Office[1] estimates that soil vapor extraction techniques, first deployed in the early 1980's, now account for 40 percent of innovative applications. Bioremediation techniques account for 21 percent. Other innovative techniques currently being applied include thermal desorption, soil washing, and in-situ flushing. However, more development is still required, especially for nuclear materials, for other less common contaminants, for heterogeneous and often poorly characterized mixtures of contaminants, and for more difficult media.

A varied and comprehensive portfolio of remediation and restoration technologies will be needed to play a critical and rather unique dual role in the U.S. economy. This dual role derives from the dichotomy that, although remediation of sites within the United States will be a significant cost to the U.S. economy, the opportunities to remediate sites outside the United States will represent a large potential export market which may benefit the U.S. economy. Thus development of timely and cost-effective remediation and restoration technologies is critical, not only to reduce costs to the U.S. economy for addressing indigenous contamination problems, but to promote U.S. competitiveness in global remediation markets. These technologies can contribute to job creation and economic growth, both by creating new jobs, and by helping reduce clean-up cost liabilities faced by many manufacturers. They also contribute to the health of the U.S. population by reducing risks associated with contaminants in the environment.

There is general parity between the United States and Europe in bioremediation technology. The United States has conducted more basic research in this area, but Europe has successfully used U.S. technology for relatively large-scale, on-site remediation efforts. A European company was the first to use a fungi to bioremediate 10,000 tons of soil at a wood processing plant. While Japanese firms are capable of being major players in bioremediation technology, they appear to lag slightly in actual demonstration of this capability. Their strength is believed to lie in ex situ bioremediation, where large-scale bioreactor and bioprocessing facilities will be required.

Nuclear wastes storage and disposal

There is an increasing emphasis within the United States on the need to mitigate the risks posed by all types of nuclear wastes, including spent nuclear fuel, high-level wastes, transuranic wastes, low-level wastes, and mixed wastes. Radioactive contaminants pose a threat to public health and safety at many sites across the country, and adequate technologies to enable treatment of all types of nuclear waste are not currently available. As a result, the development of technologies to characterize, retrieve, pretreat, stabilize, and store nuclear wastes is critical. In general, the strategy for "treatment" of radioactive waste first requires identification of what contaminants are present. Pretreatment technologies are then used to minimize the volumes of more dangerous wastes (longer half-lives, more highly radioactive), usually by separating nuclear wastes into smaller volumes of more concentrated high-level wastes and larger volumes of low-level wastes. Each of these types of waste will then be stabilized as appropriate, possibly by vitrification for high-level wastes, and by immobilization in cement or grout for low-level wastes. The stabilized waste will be stored in appropriate repositories: geologic repositories for spent fuels, high-level and transuranic wastes; and approved "disposal" facilities (usually burial sites) for low-level wastes. Although some vitrification plants have been built and are currently at various stages of being brought on-line, more reliable and more cost-effective technologies are still needed for most stages of this process.

The efforts to stabilize and store radioactive wastes are expected to continue for many years. Most estimates indicate that substantial nuclear waste treatment activities can be expected to continue into the second or third decade of the next century. For example, DOE has a stated goal of having its continuing operations in compliance by the year 2019, and of having its surplus or inactive sites either posing, or proceeding safely and smoothly towards posing, no unacceptable risk to public health and safety, or to the environment. Thus impacts (primarily costs) to the U.S. economy will continue well into the foreseeable future. The worst problems result from past U.S. government nuclear weapons programs, and these costs must be met by the government. Approximately 381,000 cubic meters of high-level waste, which contain about 1.1 billion curies of radionuclides, are stored at just four DOE sites: Savannah River, Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, Hanford Site, and West Valley Demonstration Project. Improving technologies to be as cost-effective as possible will be a continuing necessity.

Nuclear materials storage/disposal technologies contribute directly to improved environmental quality. They also contribute to the health of the U.S. population by reducing the risks of exposure to radioactive substances. It is likely that a significant number of jobs will be created by the need to treat nuclear wastes; however, given the nuclear weapons complex drawdown, net job creation will be small. For example, Rocky Flats, which has an estimated 14.2 tons of plutonium to remediate, currently employs about 7,300 people. Although this is roughly the same number as were employed at Rocky Flats during peak production in 1989, many of these people are now employed monitoring, studying, and planning clean-up efforts.

Significant export markets may exist in the future for technologies which address nuclear wastes, especially among the countries of the former Soviet Union. However, estimates of the potential size of these markets are difficult to make, and most of the effort within the U.S. is focused on the indigenous market. This is in marked contrast to the areas of remediation and restoration technologies for hazardous (non-nuclear) wastes, where many U.S. companies are actively pursuing export opportunities. Experience exporting hazardous waste clean-up technologies may provide lessons learned for future attempts to export technologies to treat nuclear wastes.

Nuclear materials storage and disposal technologies contribute to increased security of weapons-grade materials, and to national security of the United States.

Europe is slightly ahead of the United States in technologies for decontamination and decommissioning of nuclear reactors. European firms have worked on decontamination methods such as using fogs or foams containing chemical reagents and in-situ hard chemical decontamination of the tube bundle from a pressurized water reactor steam generator. Methods have been developed for separating radioactive constituents of concrete including active pilot-level testing and recycling of contaminated aluminum, copper, and steel with alpha, beta, and gamma decontamination. Japanese firms are at about the same technology level as U.S. firms. No prototypical facility has yet been decommissioned but work has been done on remodeling, maintenance, and repair. Japanese firms also have experience in decontamination of the sodium removal facility and hot cell maintenance on fast breeder reactors.

[1] Innovative Treatment Technologies: Semi-Annual Status Report, U.S. EPA, Technology Innovation Office, EPA/542/R- 92/011, October, 1992.

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