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“Development of an effective phytoremediation technology for metal          
contaminated sites, modelling of plant-contaminant-soil interactions,
       and ‘phyto-mining’ of extracted metals (‘Phy-M-Mining’)”    

                                                                                                     Khaled Mahmud Shams & Ashtar Bashar
                                                                                                                               38678 Clausthal-Zellerfeld


Soil contamination from industrial effluents and mining activities is a widespread issue worldwide. As soil is the
buffer zone between atmosphere and groundwater, hence soil contamination poses serious threat to the
groundwater and to the surrounding ecosystem. The present research program is aimed to make an indepth
investigation about the remediation of contaminated sites from various metal contaminants using specific
plants which have an experimental record as phytoremediation tools. Furthermore development of a model of
plant-contaminants-soil interaction will be used in future remediation programs for rapid and successful
remediation of polluted sites. Methods of phyto-mining will be of direct benefits to industries as maximum
recovery techniques will be explored and established.


As an emerging technology ‘phytoremediation’ offers greater potentials to remediate contaminated sites over
conventional and costly methods. Phytoremediation in its general sense means cleaning of contaminated sites
with appropriate plants. Due to its clean approach to decontaminate sites it is categorized as ‘eco-friendly’
technique. Present research is aimed to explore the full potential of this method through in-depth investigation
concerning specific but widespread pollutants in the environment.

As a widely used industrial chemical, soil pollution from chromium (Cr) is often reported from many industrial
activities which include leather industries, textiles, chemical synthesis, paints and others. As industrialization is
a progressive trend, the environment is always at risks of facing new challenges in the coming decades.
Chromium is not the only chemical, disposal of lead (Pb) and other inorganic and organic chemicals pose
serious risks to groundwater and the ecosystem in general. Industries including the mentioned ones discharge
huge effluents to the environment in the form of wastes or wastewater.

Although Cr is not bioavailable but plants like Urtica dioica (‘stinging nettle’) is proved to be very efficient to
extract Cr from contaminated soil. Extraction of as much as 16 mg Cr/kg in the above ground parts of the plant is
very promising (Shams et al. 2008). But further investigation to analyze the complete potential of this plant and
not limiting its potentiality only for Cr but to include other heavy metals, and if and where possible to include
organic pollution as well. As it is a fast growing plant with affinity to extract pollutants from contaminated soils, a
successful scientific investigation can unearth many benefits of using this plant species for the remediation of
contaminated environment.

Alongside the plants uptake of contaminants the research will focus on the ‘residue biomass’ – the biomass
that is left after harvesting. The resulting biomass from phytoremediation can be used to extract the heavy
metals - ‘phyto-mining’ or ‘bio-mining’, and the research will explore this to its utmost optimization.

Therefore, the research objectives are:

                                          a)        to find out the factors and parameters that enhance plants capacity to uptake  
                                                      more contaminants in its above ground parts to develop a successful
                                                      phytoremediaion technology,

                                          b)        to develop a model in order to predict the interactions between plant,  
                                                     contaminants and soil, and the competition among the contaminants
                                                     themselves through proper investigations,

                                         c)        to develop a method or technology to extract the metals from plants in order  
                                                    to reuse it in the industry.

Experimental Techniques and Methods:

Experimental setup will divide the study area into a number of small plots in order to facilitate various field
conditions and design of the distribution of plant species. Alongside Urtica dioica, plants from Brassicaceae
family (e.g. Brassica napus or Brassica juncea) can also be used in some plots as a ‘in-between’ among the
nettles. Experiments will be carried out on ‘single-phase’ and ‘multi-phase’ metal compartments.

The following diagram outlines the project work:

                                      Figure 1. Flowchart of the research program

To facilitate the mass balance of contaminants on the entire system of soil and plant, proper analysis of the
distribution of contaminants in every compartments of the analytical setup will be done which will yield important
parameters such as transfer factor and overalls bioconcentration factor. To investigate contaminant fate and
metabolism within exposed (test) plants, root versus shoot analysis will be performed to determine such fate as
accumulation and translocation.

A plant-contaminant-soil model will be developed from the studies in order to better understanding of the
interactions and pathways of contaminants availability and movement in different compartments of the system.
Behaviour of pollutants either in the form of competition and/or harmony towards plants uptake will be modeled
to establish as criteria for predictions in the multi-phase analysis of the program. Parameters and their specific
roles in the model will help assessing any remediation program for similar conditions. The model will
incorporate all the essential chemical, physical and biological processes in the soil, rhizosphere and in the
plant itself. These include growth rate of plants in contaminated sites, oxidative stress, absorption of metals,
distribution coefficient of the contaminants (hence the availability) etc.

The research program will develop methods for successful recovery of metals from plants. Phyto-mining is very
recent approach and very little work has been done in this area. Phyto-mining requires plants to accumulate
substantial amount of contaminants in its above-ground parts. Plants preference for selective metals and its
resistance to toxicity affect are two vital issues for phyto-mining. The research program will investigate these
issues thoroughly as a successful outcome will benefit the industries economically and no wastes will be
wasted rather will find its way back to the industries.

                                     Table 1. Time table for the project ‘Phy-M-Mining’

Estimated Budget

Total Project Budget:

                                     Table 2. Details of estimated budget for the project ‘Phy-M-Mining’

Results and Discussion:

The study proposed herein will facilitate the knowledge-based application of phytoremediation to the clean-up of
contaminated sites. The benefits of the research will also include complete understanding to the engineering
manipulation of treatment scenarios for the contaminants, evaluating the risk posed by the transfer of these
contaminants between soil and plants, and evaluating the risk mitigation of phytoremediaiton processes.
Furthermore the role of environmental conditions in a contaminated site, and towards its treatment processes
will be assessed in order to achieve maximum benefits of phytoremediation.


The results obtained and thereafter the methods developed from the research will be of direct benefit to
scientific communities and remediation specialists who will use it in the real-world conditions towards
achieving a greener environment.


Shams K.M., Tichy G., Fischer A., Filip K., Sager M., Bashar A., Peer T. & Jozic M. (2008): Chromium
contamination from tannery wastes in the soils of Hazaribagh area in Dhaka City, Bangladesh, and aspects of
its phytoremediation. Geophysical Research Abstract, Vol 10, EGU2008-A-05037.

Project Milestones
Project start
Setup & initial operations
Uptake study
Uptake study
Uptake study
Fate analysis
Model development & behaviour analysis
Method development for the extraction of
Environmental effects studies
Project end & Final report
Modes of expenditures
Estimated costs in Euro (3 years)
Laboratory expenditures
Model development
Office expenditures
Total cost
Figure 2. Phytoremediation research work in  
            greenhouse of the University of