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What Is Phosphorus And Where Do I Use It?

  • Phosphorus is a chemical element with the symbol P and atomic number 15 and exists in two major forms: white phosphorus and red phosphorus. In minerals, it refers as phosphate.

  • Phosphorus is essential for plant nutrition and for all living organisms. Indeed, most part of the phosphorus production is used in concentrated phosphoric acids for fertilisers.

  • It is also an important component in steel production or in the creation of phosphor bronze.

  • It has a key role in the structural framework of DNA and RNA.


Where is Phosphate Rock Produced?

  • Phosphorus is not found free in nature and it is distributed in many minerals, such as phosphates. 

  • Phosphorus comes from chemically transformed phosphate rock. Between 120 and 170 million tonnes of rock have been extracted every year for the last 30 years, corresponding to 20 to 30 million tonnes of purified phosphorus per year.

  • The most important mine production of exploitable phosphate rocks is located in: China, Morocco, United States, Russia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia or Vietnam.

  • Proven resources are 69 billion tonnes in 2019 according to the USGS.


How Much Does it Cost? 

  • Prices per tonne of phosphate rock have reached approximately $105 in 2019 and $110 over the long term.


Specific Issues for Phosphate Rock

  • Although phosphorus is recyclable, the input material phosphate rock is not recyclable, and as a result the recycling input rate can be regarded as zero.

  • Most phosphorus-based fertilisers are derived from rock phosphate mined in countries outside Europe. It is a non-renewable resource: at current extraction rates, it is estimated that China and the United States each have about 30 years of supply from their known recoverable reserves of rock phosphate. Most countries are net importers of ore.

  • There is not substitution option for use of phosphate rock in fertiliser.

  • According to some researchers, commercial and affordable supplies of phosphorus are expected to run out in 50 to 100 years, with a peak around 2030. Others suggest that supplies will last for several hundred years. As with the timing of peak oil, the issue is unresolved, and researchers in different fields regularly publish different estimates of rock phosphate reserves.


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