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fertiliser dubbed the new gold

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    Fertiliser Dubbed The New Gold
    Mon 03-Mar-2008 9:42AM

    Fertiliser ingredient rock phosphate is becoming a new glamour mineral in this era of soaring commodity and energy prices, according to Widespread Energy.

    Rock phosphate prices had risen from just US$50 a tonne a year ago to around US$200 a tonne.

    Widespread Energy managing director Chris Castle says fertiliser prices were soaring and he expects them to continue to remain high because of rising food demand in developing economies and the use of fertiliser for biofuels.

    "The good news is that New Zealand potentially has its own source of rock phosphate which could replace that presently imported from Morocco. And increasing freight costs, now estimated to be approaching US$100 a tonne, underline the logic of sourcing local product with the possible twin advantages of reducing both the product cost and the consumption of diesel oil," he says.

    Meanwhile, Widespread Energy applied in November for a permit to explore for rock phosphate on the Chatham Rise, 600km off the coast of Canterbury.

    The area was last explored in the early 1980s when the market value for rock phosphate was a fraction of current prices.

    Australian rock phosphate explorer Minemakers is to start a drilling programme in April to scope its resource.

    "While no production has occurred in this region, the rapidly increasing superphosphate prices and advances in underwater remote sensing and mining technology means it should logically be feasible to consider mining this underwater resource," says Mr Castle.

    The rock phosphate occurs in nodules that also contain a number of other substances, including rare earth minerals, fluorine and uranium. These constituents may need to be removed before the rock phosphate can be used as a fertiliser.

    Widespread Energy plans a two-year work programme that, if successful, will be followed by more detailed exploration and evaluation.

    Minemakers is aiming to have an updated resource by mid-year that would form the basis of a feasibility study on a project producing 2-3 million tonnes a year of beneficiated rock phosphate, grading 30 percent phosphate. First production is targeted for 2010.

    Rock phosphate is used as a raw material for producing fertilisers such as super phosphate, but can also be used on its own as a slow release, more environmentally friendly fertiliser.

    "The potential of such resources is certainly focusing the attentions of miners and investors worldwide," Mr Castle says.

    "It's interesting that in Australia it's been farmers who have been buying into Minemakers as a hedge against rising fertiliser prices in the same way other investors are buying gold as a hedge against inflation and nervous share markets. Minemakers estimates farmers hold 10 percent of its shares."

    (c) NewsRoom 2008
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