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interesting notes on diminishing reserves of p

  1. 4,468 Posts.
    Found these notes as part of an academic study by a doctoral student at UTS, Dana Cordell, on the phosphate crisis and global food security. These are just a few points from her extensive study on phosphorus. Highlights the fact that P is irreplaceable and that the price will not be going south anytime soon:

    1. Phosphorus is essential for all living matter, including
    bacteria, plants and animals. It is essential for food
    production in the form of fertilizers (and indeed a limiting factor in crop yields) and hence a critical global resource, along side water and energy resources.

    2. The majority of the world's agricultural fields today rely on fertilizers derived from inorganic minerals, such as phosphate rock. Phosphate rock is a non-renewable
    resource, and current known reserves are likely to be
    depleted in 50-100 years.

    3. While other non-renewable natural resources used in
    society - like oil - can be substituted with other sources (like wind, biomass or thermal energy), phosphorus has no
    substitute in food production.

    4. Unlike other major biogeochemical cycles, phosphorus has
    no atmospheric phase, meaning it takes millions of years to
    cycle naturally between the lithosphere and hydrosphere,
    and is thus more sensitive to anthropogenic disruptions (like mining, which releases phosphorus from the lithosphere to the hydrosphere at rates of days to years).

    5. 85-90% of the phosphate rock extracted globally is for food production (the remainder is for industrial applications like detergents).

    6. A balanced diet results in depletion of around 22.5kg/yr of phosphate rock (or 3.2kg/yr of P) per person based on
    current practice. This is 50 times greater than the 1.2 g/d
    per person recommended daily intake of P.8

    7. Demand for phosphorus is increasing globally, despite a
    downward trend in developed regions like Western Europe.
    This is due to an increasing per capita and overall demand
    for food in developing countries, from increasing population and global trends towards more meat- and dairy-based diets, which are significantly more P intensive.

    8. If we hope to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of
    eradicating hunger, we must change the way we source and
    use phosphorus in global food production. The African
    continent is simultaneously the world’s largest producer of
    phosphate rock (almost 30% of the global share) and the
    continent with the largest deficit in food security.

    9. Phosphate rock reserves are highly geographically
    concentrated, and thus only exist under control of a small
    number of countries, including China, Morocco (who owns
    Western Sahara's reserves), and the US. The US has
    approximately 25 years of reserves remaining, while China
    has indicated it will no longer import or export phosphate
    rock. Western Europe and India are totally dependent on

    10. Importing Western Saharan P rock via Moroccan authorities is condemned by the UN and has recently been boycotted by several Scandinavian firms.

    11. Phosphate rock mining currently relies on cheap fossil energy, like oil. As oil reserves peak, price of phosphate rock will also increase further.

    12. Phosphate rock mining, processing and transportation
    represents a significant percentage of energy use in agriculture. Around 30% of energy use in agriculture in the US is from fertilizer production and use.

    13. Like oil and other natural resources, the rate of production of economically available phosphate reserves will eventually peak, followed by a steep decline and subsequent ongoing decline of EPR*. Based on industry data, this global peak P is expected to occur between 2040 and 2050.

    14. The quality of phosphate rock is declining for two reasons: the concentration of P205 in mined P rock is decreasing; and the concentration of associated heavy metals like Cadmium are increasing.

    15. The cost of mining phosphate rock is increasing due to decline in quality and greater expense of extraction, refinement and environmental management.

    16. The Cadmium content of phosphate rock can be very high. This is either considered a harmful concentration for application in agriculture, or, expensive and energy intensive to remove (maximum concentrations for fertilizers exist in some regions, like Western Europe).

    17. Demand for biofuels has resulted in increasing demand for P rock as fertilizers, and increased runoff from short-rooted energy crops.
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