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One step forward, two steps back: the evolution of phytoremediation into commercial technologies

Chloe Stephenson

University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington Campus, Loughborough LE12 5RD, U


6 Jan 2014


20 Aug 2014


4 Nov 2014






phytoextraction, phytoremediation, phytomining, phytotechnologies, structured wetlands, infiltration caps


This review charts the evolution of phytoremediation from its earliest beginnings, with the discovery of metal tolerant plants in the 16th century and metabolism of organic pollutants by plants in the 1940s. The rapid expansion of research in the early 1990s led to many crucial discoveries but failed to surmount the fundamental limitations that often impede commercial application of phytoremediation. It is argued that phytoremediation was saved from being forgotten by its evolution under the new term phytotechnology, or ‘the application of science and engineering to examine problems and provide solutions using plants’. This review explores the use of phytotechnology for ecological engineering using constructed wetlands and evapotranspiration caps as landfill covers. Finally, the transfer of phytotechnology to developing countries, where it has great potential to solve the growing problem of pollution, is examined. The development of phytotechnology can be perceived as an illustration of the modern evolution of scientific thought, from the traditional reductionist view to a wider holistic approach which takes into account the natural environment and our need to preserve it. It is hoped that the evolution of both will allow for increasing conservation of finite resources without sacrificing continued development.

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