Key Market Trends and Themes for the Global Air Pollution Control Industry

Kayra Reven

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Emissions Control for Coal-Fired Power Plants
Parts of Asia, especially China and India, continue to use coal as their primary source of power.
Approximately three-quarters of all currently planned coal-fired power plants worldwide are slated to
be installed in one of those two countries. Depending on the stringency of the regulatory environment,
these plants are likely to result in an abundance of both retrofit and new installation opportunities for
stationary source emission reduction and control technologies in the next five to 10 years. The types of
technologies needed for a given power plant will depend on regulatory requirements. The type of coal
to be burned is also relevant, as pollutant levels vary for different kinds of coal. In addition to the
demand for more traditional technologies used to limit or control NOx, SOx, particulate matter and
mercury emissions, state-of-the-art emerging technologies – particularly those designed for multipollutant control – are likely to be of great interest to foreign buyers. Emerging technologies include
non-carbon sorbents for removal of flue gas mercury, and non-thermal plasma and activated coke for
multi-pollutant removal.

Municipal Solid Waste, Hazardous Waste, Recycling, and Resource Recovery

The soil media category includes solid and hazardous waste management, recycling and resource
recovery, and soil pollution prevention and remediation technologies. Like municipal water treatment,
municipal solid waste is subject to a high degree of regulatory burden due to the public policy
considerations related to waste management. The technologies needed by this sector depend on the
composition and properties of the waste generated. Revenues for the U.S. solid waste and recycling
industry equaled $97.7 billion in 2017, predominantly from waste management services.
The recycling industry is driven by demand from materials markets and its growth is dependent on the
price of commodities and other economic factors. The U.S. hazardous waste management industry,
which deals with industrial wastes that require independent treatment and storage technologies due to
the potential for contamination, accounted for $20.3 billion in revenues in 2017.

Key Market Trends and Themes for the Global Waste Management and Recycling Industry

Sustainable Materials Management
Sustainable materials management (SMM) is a systems-wide approach that meets the needs of society
while simultaneously reducing materials use, waste generation and negative environmental, social, and
economic impacts. Materials and resources (including land, energy and water) are used and reused
effectively and efficiently throughout their life cycles (including extraction, processing, design,
manufacturing, production, use, reuse, end-of-life management and all transportation). Historically,
societies have viewed the life cycle of a product as linear, e.g. from production, to use, to disposal. SMM
is an alternative approach that emphasizes the productive use and reuse of materials throughout their
lifecycle. Beginning with materials extraction and following with each stage in a product’s life, the
product – or more precisely, the materials from which it is made – are viewed as key and valuable inputs
for other processes. The goal is to minimize the amount of materials involved and all associated
environmental impacts and waste generation. SMM has become popular among policymakers and the
public to address life cycle environmental impacts of materials. It can also help industries decrease costs
associated with the purchase of typically expensive virgin materials, as well as enhance efficiency and
reduce materials losses during production.

Conversion Technologies

Solid waste conversion technologies include gasification, plasma arc gasification, anaerobic digestion,
pyrolysis, and thermal depolymerization. These technologies differ from traditional waste incineration
processes because they do not involve combustion. Instead, they typically use thermal degradation or
electric current to convert the solid waste to liquid fuels, syngas, biogas, heat, electricity and/or
chemical products, depending on the inputs and the process. Most of these conversion technologies are
proven for homogenous waste streams and are operating commercially in several locations outside of
the United States. There is limited data on their effectiveness for mixed waste or municipal solid waste
feedstocks, particularly on a larger scale. Market opportunities for conversion technologies are likely to
expand with the increase of waste generated by the growing global population. According to the Global
Energy Council’s 2016 Waste-to-Energy report, in 2013 the global waste-to-energy market (including both traditional incineration as well as conversion technologies) was valued at $25.32 billion.

Monitoring and Instrumentation

Crosscutting the three media categories is the monitoring and instrumentation subsector, which
includes monitors and testing equipment for the air, water, and soil; metering technology for water
treatment and conveyance; and laboratory equipment and testing services. U.S. industry revenues in
2017 for instruments and information systems totaled $7 billion, led by instruments for water and
wastewater management at $2.5 billion, followed by those for air quality at $1.4 billion and remediation
at $1.2 billion.

Air pollution control technologies are determined by the scale of emissions and types of pollutants that
need to be captured. Large emitters, such as concrete producers and coal-fired power plants, deploy
systems that are the size of a city block and cost millions of dollars to install and operate. Smaller
operations, such as those attached to medical incinerators, have a substantially lower footprint and cost
profile. Mobile sources – including marine diesel engines, non-road diesel engines and automobile
engines –are primary examples of scale-driven systems based on unit pricing. An example of a scalable
control technology is the catalytic converter in passenger vehicles.

Environmental Consulting and Engineering

Environmental consulting and engineering also cut across the three mediums categories. The industry is
comprised of practitioners who design, develop and operate environmental infrastructure and systems
that can be free-standing or part and parcel of larger projects.
An example of a free-standing environmental project includes the site assessment, design, engineering,
construction, and operation of a wastewater treatment facility, whether municipal or industrial. An
example of a part-and-parcel project is a site environmental impact assessment and sustainability design
component for a new building.
The variability of projects and services of this environmental sector contributes to difficulty in
establishing reliable market figures. Nonetheless, Environmental Business International’s (EBI) survey of
the industry reports 2017 U.S. revenues of $30.1 billion for environmental consulting and engineering.

Though interrelated in terms of their collective impact on ecology, the environmental technology
medium subsectors and segments generally function as independent markets driven by both regulation
and demand from client industries. The implications for an environmental technology export promotion
strategy are that these diverse and complex markets must be complemented by a promotion strategy
appropriate to their respective market drivers.


Understanding Export Promotion Strategies In The Context Of Global Market Drivers

Rules Supersede Needs in the Global Market for Environmental Technologies

To establish an effective export promotion strategy for U.S. environmental technologies, there must be
an understanding of how environmental markets function. These markets are not driven by
environmental needs, like the lack of potable water, nor are they driven by conservation philosophies,
such as the desire to protect natural resources for future generations. Instead, markets for
environmental technologies are driven by environmental regulations. Specifically, environmental
markets develop in settings where the cost of non-compliance with environmental rules exceeds that of
compliance. The health of a market is determined by a functional system of enforcement.
In the absence of enforcement, compliance failures negate the implementation and maintenance of
environmental protection systems regardless of the scope of environmental challenges in a market. A
recent example of this is air pollution control in China. The Chinese government passed its first air
pollution control law in 1987 followed by revisions in 1995, 2000, and 2015. Weaknesses in the earlier
statutes that fostered the absence of an effective enforcement mechanism led to China’s pervasive and
widely reported air pollution problems. Data from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing show that from April 2008
to March 2014, only 25 days qualified as “good” air quality days using U.S. standards. The implication for export promotion is that needs-based approaches fail to accurately anticipate market opportunity.

Therefore, this report not only tracks needs but also monitors new legislation, implementation, and
government enforcement efforts.
While regulatory enforcement incentivizes environmental markets, finance ultimately is the catalyst for
market growth and development. Environmental technology markets fail to accelerate without
resources to fund public-sector environmental infrastructure projects and private-sector environmental
compliance requirements. For this reason, this study emphasizes national mechanisms to finance public
infrastructure projects required to meet national environmental goals.

Resource Scarcity is an Emerging Driver of Environmental Technologies

Resource scarcity and the corresponding demand for resource efficiency are important drivers of
environmental technology markets. Since environmental resources play an integral role in industrial
production, their value as an input creates demand for technology that enables their efficient use and
reuse. An example of this relationship is the boom in investment and development of water treatment
and reuse technologies for the recovery of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing. The productive
value of a cubic meter of water in the hydraulic fracturing process is estimated to be about $1.54.
Comparatively, a cubic meter of water used in agriculture has a productive value of approximately
$0.13, demonstrating that investments in water efficiency enhance profits for natural gas producers.
Between 2005 and 2012, the Office of Energy and Environmental Industries at the International Trade
Administration estimates that U.S. venture capital firms made $415.1 million in R&D investments for
new treatment technologies aimed at promoting the reuse of produced water and better managing the
cost of process water in extractive industries, based on publicly reported venture capital deals.

Similarly, the recycling industry is predicated on the price of materials and the cost of non-virgin
materials as productive inputs. Historically, as the price of virgin materials has risen along with energy
and other associated costs, the demand for recycled materials has grown along with the technologies
required to produce them. This effect is compounded by the overall scarcity of materials.
Capital efficiency and the demand for industrial hygiene also can drive demand for environmental
technologies. An example is the requirement for mercury removal in natural gas-fired power plants,
since even low levels of mercury in the fuel stream can destroy heat exchangers and other essential
Demand for resource efficiency-driven environmental technologies is expected to increase as resource
scarcity is compounded by demographic, social, and ecological trends, including climate variability,
population growth, urbanization, per capita income growth, and changes in consumption patterns.

Challenges For U.S. Environmental Technologies And Services Abroad

The United States hosts a comparatively advanced and sophisticated environmental technologies
industry. The U.S. brand is highly valued in global markets. U.S. environmental products are recognized
for their excellence in innovation, engineering, and durability. Global buyers recognize the U.S. brand for
the services associated with U.S. environmental technologies, which emphasize long-term business and
engineering relationships over short-term sales opportunities. Despite the recognized excellence of the
U.S. industry, companies face a variety of challenges in the international market.

Business Time Horizons

The time horizon for fostering a business relationship that leads to the sale of an environmental system
typically is one to five years. For international markets, this translates into substantial corporate
investment in time and resources to develop business partnerships. It also leads to statistics indicating
relatively poor success in U.S. export promotion activities and a correspondingly diminished interest
within government to support programs for the industry. The success horizon often exceeds the typical
three-year limit for harvesting results from U.S. export programs.

Preferential Procurement Practices and Cost/Quality Trade-offs

The sophistication of U.S. products coupled with the cost of production in the United States has a
corresponding effect on price. The high price differential for U.S. technologies and systems can negate
competitiveness in low-income markets. U.S. products may also be passed over in the short-term for
lower-cost and less durable alternatives despite the long-term operational cost competitiveness of U.S.
products. Similarly, preferential procurement practices that favor domestic competitors or competitors
from aid-donor countries can create an overall environment of unfair competition for U.S. companies.


Tariffs remain a substantial and limiting barrier to trade in environmental technologies. The United
States Trade Representative (USTR) reports tariff peaks in environmental technologies among World
Trade Organization (WTO) members of 20% for air pollution control, waste management and recycling,
and monitoring and instrumentation products. [4] Tariffs for water and wastewater products are as high
as 21%. In many markets, high tariffs compound the price differential for U.S. environmental
technologies, making U.S. products prohibitively expensive in many markets or eroding profitability of
U.S. goods in export markets.

Standards, Regulation, and Certification

Beyond tariffs, substantial and often insurmountable barriers exist for U.S. companies with respect to
different standards regimes, lack of regulatory compatibility, and failure to provide mutual recognition
of product and professional certifications.

The United States drives innovation in part through its approach to standards, which emphasizes
performance-based measures of conformity where practicable, and predicates standards and testing
protocols on the principles of science, risk assessment, and cost-benefit analysis. This creates conflict in
foreign markets that emphasize design-based standards models and utilize the precautionary principle
in developing standards and regulation – an approach that eliminates the practicability of performancebased design, stymies innovation and narrows the field of applicable technologies to those developed
within the destination market. It also imposes onerous additional fees for testing and conformity
assessment to similarly performing technologies and equally rigorous professional certifications.

Data Gaps and Asymmetrical Market Information
Weak trade and market data have plagued the environmental technologies industry for some time.
Neither the Harmonized Tariff System (HTS) nor the North American Industrial Classification System
(NAICS) accurately address the breadth of technologies and services within the industry. Determining
market size and opportunity is a persistent problem. (See the Methodology section for how these gaps
are addressed in this study.)
The U.S. market is large and, until recently, substantial enough to support the business aspirations of
many U.S. environmental technology providers. Saturation of the U.S. market, however, coupled with
explosive growth in emerging markets, makes international growth inextricably linked with companies’
growth. Small- and-medium-sized enterprises need to identify markets where their technologies are in
demand and develop business relationships that will lead to future sales. The lack of market data makes
it difficult to determine the best foreign market opportunities and makes it difficult for individual
companies to discern where their specific products could be most in demand.
U.S. Government Resources and Coordination
U.S. agencies that are members of ETWG face a variety of challenges in promoting environmental
exports. These challenges include a lack of resources needed to effectively conduct interagency
coordination; different missions (which may subordinate export promotion as a priority); diminishing
staff and budget resources for program implementation; and limited mechanisms to transmit market
information to industry and individual companies.

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