Astro-biology, Chemistry, DNA, Environment, Genetics, GUT-CP, Millsian, Molecular modelling, New elements, technology

Phosphates/Phosphorous…’The Essential Element’, essential to ALL life on Earth (all carbon based life as we understand it)… a little bit of problem here humanity!

“Phosphorous – The name is derived from the Greek ‘phosphoros’, meaning bringer of light.”
Phosphorous – Royal Society of Chemistry

“Unless something is done, the scarcity of phosphorus will cause problems of a global dimension. As early as 2035 it is calculated that the demand for phosphorus map outpace the supply,” Dr Dana Cordell -Research Director at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney.

“Those of you that know me, know I’ve been talking about this subject matter for a number of years (slight diversion from global energy)… Phosphorous! Not only is it essential to securing the global food supply due to the global fertiliser industries over reliance upon it, it’s actually essential to ALL life on Earth, the backbone to DNA…
it is a FINITE resource, that is not being thoughtfully managed or controlled, at some point in the future, humanity will exhaust the planets supply.
Unless we:-
a) source it from elsewhere. i.e. outer space. Recent study suggests all phosphate on Earth actually came from elsewhere in cosmos.
Biocompatible phosphorus could have travelled to Earth on space ice
Lab experiments back up hypothesis that comets and meteorites provided a form of the element compatible with the biochemistry of early life”

b) find a method of synthesising or recreating the phosphate molecule.

No Phosphorous, no life… as simple as!

We now have a population exceeding 7 billion, set to hit 9 billion by 2030, and not slowing down… unless there is a technological revolution, in our understanding of molecular modelling, synthesising or reproducing organic molecules vital to life and DNA (phosphorous), or sourcing them from elsewhere in the Cosmos (meteorites, planets)… billions of people will potentially starve and die!

With The Grand Unified Theory Of Classical Physics, a better understanding of molecular and atomic structure… accurate and predictive molecular modelling programs such as Millsian… this sorry arse civilisation may stand half a chance!


The Essential Element

How Phosphorus Scarcity Endangers the World
By Ryan Sim August 10, 2016

Phosphorus: a powdery maroon substance used in producing everything from baking powder to steels to fertilizer. Surprisingly, stocks of phosphorus are declining. The international community faces so many insidious issues that phosphorus scarcity can seem trivial; however, dwindling phosphorus is indeed important to national security. One of the most important substances for global food production, phosphorus is crucial to sustainable population growth. Its scarcity must be addressed by the international community.

Used in many fertilizers, phosphorus enables higher food production from crops, which is important for feeding a rapidly growing world. Phosphorus has contributed to a global surplus of food that has fed millions. Unfortunately, phosphorus, like many other important resources such as water or energy, is limited. There is no replacement for phosphorus, and without its role in fertilizer, millions will go hungry.

Growing Demand

Numerous global trends have caused the demand for phosphorus to increase at an unsustainable rate. Especially in developing regions, rapid population growth has led to increased phosphorus demand, with the rate of fertilizer including phosphorus increasing by over 600 percent from 1950 to 2000. In developed regions, on the other hand, the shift towards a diet of meat and cheese have also increased phosphorus demand, since meat and dairy contain a significant proportion of phosphorus. As a result, countries everywhere face rising demands for phosphorus, which has led to precarious markets.

Recently unfolding events have demonstrated the impacts of phosphorus’ increased demand. In 2008, world food prices skyrocketed, leading to the 2008 global food crisis. While there were many explanations for this phenomenon, ranging from oil price volatility to economic tariffs, the fact that there was a simultaneous rise of in phosphate prices did not go unnoticed. Though at first many were skeptical of a correlation, the international scientific community has strongly supported the relationship between these two trends.

In such scarcity, phosphorus especially impacts farmers from poor regions like India and landlocked regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa. In poor regions, farmers are vulnerable to extreme price changes such as the recent phosphorus price crisis in 2008. In fact, in places such as India and Haiti, many farmers committed suicide while others rioted due to their disrupted livelihoods from the 2008 phosphorus price crisis. In landlocked regions, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa, expensive transport as well as government corruption add significantly to phosphorus prices. It is unfortunate, since many of these countries rely upon agriculture for economic growth, further increasing their reliance on phosphate. Many of these countries are also undergoing rapid population growth, which cannot be sustained by such high phosphorus prices.

Shriveling Supply

Though demand is increasing, phosphorus is an extremely rare resource and its supply may not be able to keep up. Phosphate rock is the difficult to extract and slow-forming product of millions of years, much like oil, and cannot be produced artificially. To make matters worse, phosphorus cannot be replaced by any known alternatives. It is uncertain exactly how much time that the international community has before phosphate runs out. However, as phosphate is continuously and increasingly harvested, the ability to easily harvest high-quality phosphorus is reduced. This is a phenomenon known as “peak phosphorus”, since at a certain point of time, phosphorus quality peaks and then is difficult to harvest afterwards. Even now, it takes enormous amounts of energy to obtain the same amounts of phosphate as before. Since phosphorus has a limited and quickly depleting availability and it saps precious energy, more sustainable and efficient methods of phosphorus harvest must be implemented.

It must also be noted how phosphorus can only be found in very specific locations, namely, Morocco, China, Algeria, and South Africa among a few others. As is the case with most resources of significance, when certain countries have a monopoly, it gives them major geopolitical power over other countries who need those imports. For example, the 2008 phosphorus price crisis was spurred in part due to China placing limits on phosphorus exports. This event demonstrates how countries are at the mercy of those who hold such a monopoly and, consequently, the balance of power has significantly been slanted towards them.

Though demand is increasing, phosphorus is an extremely rare resource and its supply may not be able to keep up.

In countries such as Morocco, for instance, phosphorus lies in the Western Sahara, an area that Morocco claims to own; the international community refuses to acknowledge this territorial claim. Regardless of the legitimacy of the Moroccan claim, numerous companies import phosphate rock from this contested area, much to the dismay of neighboring countries. Moreover, the people who occupy the Western Sahara protest against the phosphorus extraction, stating that it violates their sovereignty. Though this may be a singular case, it demonstrates how the extreme need for phosphorus combined with little regulation has created an environment where illegal activity may flourish. Furthermore, the lack of regulation allows more opportunistic powers to enter weaker territories and take their resources, instigating oppression and deeper economic woes.

Phosphorus’ scarcity stems not only from its limited quantities, but it is also wasted during harvests. As much as four-fifths of phosphorus is wasted during production, from the moment it is mined to the final moments of processing. These losses can be minimized through greater efficiency and recycling waste, ensuring more sustainable levels of phosphorus use. Moreover, improving the efficiency of phosphorus extraction reduces phosphorus runoff into streams and oceans, which causes algal blooms that kill aquatic wildlife and hurt tourist industries and the environment. This algal bloom is costly, as well. The estimated annual cost in the United States alone reaches up to as high as $2.2 billion USD. More stringent monitoring of excess phosphorus waste during harvest will decrease phosphorus scarcity and environmental risks.

Preserving Phosphorus

This raises the question–who is responsible for managing phosphorus, whether by following international norms or minimizing excessive waste? The answer, at the moment, is lost in a hectic mass of mining sectors, national governments, and agricultural industries. The trade and production data that exists on phosphorus is incomplete; indeed, the only data available is from the US Geological Survey, but even this data lacks outside verification from other organizations or countries. This is a clear and present problem, especially given that phosphorus is such a critical resource for future food sustainability. All lines involved in the production of phosphorus need to be held to more accountability, and more information regarding the phosphorus production process needs to be revealed to give a better picture of the status quo.

Luckily for the international community, the future is not as grim as it appears. There are a number of institutional changes that can be made to improve regulation and decrease waste. Outreach and advocacy measures, on the macro-level of the United Nations and giant media organizations as well as micro-level of grassroots movements and nonprofit organizations, can raise awareness of the seriousness of phosphorus. As these reforms and changes change the nature of institutions to become more sympathetic to phosphorus sustainability, the best practices and procedures of the international community can be more easily implemented.

One area that should be prioritized in reducing phosphorus is the smarter use of fertilizer. In most cases, farmers are unaware of how much fertilizer they need. For good reason—the amount of fertilizer a farmer may need is highly dependent on environmental conditions such as soil, temperature, and weather patterns. As a result, many farmers in developing countries are not able to accurately gauge their fertilizer requirements, leading to much waste. One example of this case can be found in a China Agriculture Survey on northern Chinese farmers. Since many of these farmers were never taught how much fertilizer they need, they tend to use about half of the fertilizer they put down. Thus, a valuable resource is wasted and becomes an environmental risk to water supplies, just because some people were never educated.

To combat this lack of information, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization is putting together a task force to work together with local and state governments. It hopes to provide accessible information to farmers, emphasizing ideals of conservation and long-term sustainability of phosphorus. This task force is not unprecedented and draws inspiration from past successful initiatives. The University of Wisconsin, in concert with the Wisconsin government, put together a program called the Wisconsin phosphorus index, which helps farmers accurately predict how much phosphorus that they will need. By promoting past sustainable practices that have a track record of success, organizations like the United Nations will hopefully be able to increase awareness amongst local communities.

Another area that can be examined to increase phosphorus supply is recycling waste. In the past, farmers were able to sustain the quality of their soil largely through household waste. Even though animal manure is still widely used, human waste is also a valuable source of phosphorus. Instead of disposing of it as sewage, human waste has potential as an alternative fertilizer. Moreover, many countries across the world are undergoing intensive research to find innovative ways to efficiently recycle waste. It is important that the international scientific community communicates their findings to one another to promote the best long-term phosphorus recycling methods. Additionally, areas that might not be able to afford such advanced levels of technology need to receive assistance from NGOs and the United Nations. Since some of these recycling procedures are difficult to keep up without high development levels, countries must have access to at least rudimentary recycling processes. In this way, countries will be able to extend their current supplies of phosphorus.

Just as important in preserving phosphorus in the long term is having a tangible idea of the global phosphorus supply. As previously mentioned, the US Geological Survey currently gives us the best representation of how much phosphorus is left. However, a more effective way to describe the world phosphorus supply would be through an international organization such as the World Trade Organization. The World Trade Organization should work together with governments to foster the creation of a more comprehensive global database of phosphorus trade and supply. Indeed, this partnership should also yield information of new phosphorus mining areas, since many places need heavier examination by regional governments. Then, markets and research institutions will have more accurate information to act upon, creating a more sustainable phosphorus supply in the long run.

While there are numerous measures that can be implemented in order to promote more long-term phosphorus supply sustainability, they cannot be effective without cultural changes as well. Meat and dairy, for example, take up immense supplies of phosphorus, and yet people are consuming these products at unprecedented levels. Therefore, it is increasingly necessary to promote a plant-based diet to reduce the amount of phosphorus consumption. Other cultural changes can include speaking with local farmers in underdeveloped countries, explaining how phosphorus is an essential and limited resource that needs conservation. With these movements in place, major media outlets and nonprofit organizations should direct the focus of public energy. Of course, this will not be an overnight process, since cultural changes often take many more incremental, subtle steps. However, encouraging such a long-term paradigm shift while putting into place other specific strategies for improvement should maintain phosphorus supplies.

The world’s population is growing at an exponential rate, as technology has dramatically improved the standard of living. On the whole, more people have access to the necessary resources they need to live than ever before. Yet, there are still large swaths of populations who live in poor conditions. There is still work to be done in lifting every person to the basic standard of living that they each deserve. Phosphorus is not a silver bullet that will deliver such people. However, when phosphorus sustainability is considered in the grander scheme of things, it will have enormous benefits to everyone, regardless of where they live. It will improve international security, as those who have more access to phosphorus will not have such a monopoly on power. It will reap benefits for farmers who are able to support their livelihoods through affordable fertilization. And it will reap benefits for every individual, as the markets of phosphorus and agriculture become more stable over time.

Phosphorus is more than simply an element or powdery substance—it represents an opportunity for the international community to help itself and the most marginalized populations. In a vastly changing world, it has become an essential element for change.

How To Live with Phosphorus Scarcity in Soil and Sediment: Lessons from Bacteria

Phosphorus (P) plays a fundamental role in the physiology and biochemistry of all living things. Recent evidence indicates that organisms in the oceans can break down and use P forms in different oxidation states (e.g., +5, +3, +1, and −3); however, information is lacking for organisms from soil and sediment. The Cuatro Ciénegas Basin (CCB), Mexico, is an oligotrophic ecosystem with acute P limitation, providing a great opportunity to assess the various strategies that bacteria from soil and sediment use to obtain P. We measured the activities in sediment and soil of different exoenzymes involved in P recycling and evaluated 1,163 bacterial isolates (mainly Bacillus spp.) for their ability to use six different P substrates. DNA turned out to be a preferred substrate, comparable to a more bioavailable P source, potassium phosphate. Phosphodiesterase activity, required for DNA degradation, was observed consistently in the sampled-soil and sediment communities. A capability to use phosphite (PO3 3−) and calcium phosphate was observed mainly in sediment isolates. Phosphonates were used at a lower frequency by both soil and sediment isolates, and phosphonatase activity was detected only in soil communities. Our results revealed that soil and sediment bacteria are able to break down and use P forms in different oxidation states and contribute to ecosystem P cycling. Different strategies for P utilization were distributed between and within the different taxonomic lineages analyzed, suggesting a dynamic movement of P utilization traits among bacteria in microbial communities.

Phosphorus: Essential to Life—Are We Running Out?

Fertilizing a corn field in Iowa. Photo credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Phosphorus, the 11th most common element on earth, is fundamental to all living things. It is essential for the creation of DNA, cell membranes, and for bone and teeth formation in humans. It is vital for food production since it is one of three nutrients (nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus) used in commercial fertilizer. Phosphorus cannot be manufactured or destroyed, and there is no substitute or synthetic version of it available. There has been an ongoing debate about whether or not we are running out of phosphorus. Are we approaching peak phosphorus? In other words, are we using it up faster than we can economically extract it?

In fact, phosphorus is a renewable resource and there is plenty of it left on earth. Animals and humans excrete almost 100 percent of the phosphorus they consume in food. In the past, as part of a natural cycle, the phosphorus in manure and waste was returned to the soil to aid in crop production. Today phosphorus is an essential component of commercial fertilizer. Because industrial agriculture moves food around the world for processing and consumption, disrupting the natural cycle that returned phosphorus to the soil via the decomposition of plants, in many areas fertilizer must now be continually applied to enrich the soil’s nutrients.

Most of the phosphorus used in fertilizer comes from phosphate rock, a finite resource formed over millions of years in the earth’s crust. Ninety percent of the world’s mined phosphate rock is used in agriculture and food production, mostly as fertilizer, less as animal feed and food additives. When experts debate peak phosphorus, what they are usually debating is how long the phosphate rock reserves, i.e. the resources that can economically be extracted, will hold out.

Pedro Sanchez, director of the Agriculture and Food Security Center at the Earth Institute, does not believe there is a shortage of phosphorus. “In my long 50-year career, “ he said. “Once every decade, people say we are going to run out of phosphorus. Each time this is disproven. All the most reliable estimates show that we have enough phosphate rock resources to last between 300 and 400 more years.”

In 2010, the International Fertilizer Development Center determined that phosphate rock reserves would last for several centuries. In 2011, the U.S. Geological Survey revised its estimates of phosphate rock reserves from the previous 17.63 billion tons to 71.65 billion tons in accordance with IFDC’s estimates. And, according to Sanchez, new research shows that the amount of phosphorus coming to the surface by tectonic uplift is in the same range as the amounts of phosphate rock we are extracting now.

Global meat consumption from 1961 to 2009. Photo credit: FAO

The duration of phosphate rock reserves will also be impacted by the decreasing quality of the reserves, the growing global population, increased meat and dairy consumption (which require more fertilized grain for feed), wastage along the food chain, new technologies, deposit discoveries and improvements in agricultural efficiency and the recycling of phosphorus. Moreover, climate change will affect the demand for phosphorus because agriculture will bear the brunt of changing weather patterns. Most experts agree, however, that the quality and accessibility of currently available phosphate rock reserves are declining, and the costs to mine, refine, store and transport them are rising.

Ninety percent of the phosphate rock reserves are located in just five countries: Morocco, China, South Africa, Jordan and the United States. The U.S., which has 25 years of phosphate rock reserves left, imports a substantial amount of phosphate rock from Morocco, which controls up to 85 percent of the remaining phosphate rock reserves. However, many of Morocco’s mines are located in Western Sahara, which Morocco has occupied against international law. Despite the prevalence of phosphorus on earth, only a small percentage of it can be mined because of physical, economic, energy or legal constraints.

In 2008, phosphate rock prices spiked 800 percent because of higher oil prices, increased demand for fertilizer (due to more meat consumption) and biofuels, and a short-term lack of availability of phosphate rock. This led to surging food prices, which hit developing countries particularly hard.

With a world population that is projected to reach 9 billion by 2050 and require 70 percent more food than we produce today, and a growing global middle class that is consuming more meat and dairy, phosphorus is crucial to global food security. Yet, there are no international organizations or regulations that manage global phosphorus resources. Since global demand for phosphorus rises about 3 percent each year (and may increase as the global middle class grows and consumes more meat), our ability to feed humanity will depend upon how we manage our phosphorus resources.

Unfortunately, most phosphorus is wasted. Only 20 percent of the phosphorus in phosphate rock reaches the food consumed globally. Thirty to 40 percent is lost during mining and processing; 50 percent is wasted in the food chain between farm and fork; and only half of all manure is recycled back into farmland around the world.

Eutrophication in the Caspian Sea. Photo credit: Jeff Schmaltz, NASA

Most of the wasted phosphorus enters our rivers, lakes and oceans from agricultural or manure runoff or from phosphates in detergent and soda dumped down drains, resulting in eutrophication. This is a serious form of water pollution wherein algae bloom, then die, consuming oxygen and creating a “dead zone” where nothing can live. Over 400 coastal dead zones at the mouths of rivers exist and are expanding at the rate of 10 percent per decade. In the United States alone, economic damage from eutrophication is estimated to be $2.2 billion a year.

As the quality of phosphate rock reserves declines, more energy is necessary to mine and process it. The processing of lower grade phosphate rock also produces more heavy metals such as cadmium and uranium, which are toxic to soil and humans; more energy must be expended to remove them as well. Moreover, increasingly expensive fossil fuels are needed to transport approximately 30 million tons of phosphate rock and fertilizers around the world annually.

Sanchez says that while there is no reason to fear we are running out of phosphorus, we do need to be more efficient about our use of phosphorus, especially to minimize eutrophication. The keys to making our phosphorus resources more sustainable are to reduce demand and find alternate sources. We need to:


  • Improve the efficiency of mining
  • Integrate livestock and crop production; in other words, use the manure as fertilizer
  • Make fertilizer application more targeted
  • Prevent soil erosion and agricultural runoff by promoting no-till farming, terracing, contour tilling and the use of windbreaks
  • Eat a plant based diet
  • Reduce food waste from farm to fork
  • Recover phosphorus from human waste
Cow dung to be used as fertilizer drying in Punjab. Photo credit: Gopal Aggarwal

Phosphorus can be reused. According to some studies, there are enough nutrients in one person’s urine to grow 50 to 100 percent of the food needed by another person. NuReSys is a Belgian company whose technology can recover 85 percent of the phosphorus present in wastewater, and turn it into struvite crystals that can be used as a slow fertilizer.

New phosphorus-efficient crops are also being developed. Scientists at the International Rice Research Institute discovered a gene that makes it possible for rice plants to grow bigger roots that absorb more phosphorus. The overexpression of this gene can increase the yield of rice plants when they are grown in phosphorus-poor soil. Rice plants with this gene are not genetically modified, but are being bred with modern techniques; they are expected to be available to farmers in a few years.

A breed of genetically modified Yorkshire pigs, called the Enviropig, has been developed by the University of Guelph in Canada to digest phosphorus from plants more efficiently and excrete less of it. This results in lower costs to feed the pigs and less phosphorus pollution, since pig manure is a major contributor to eutrophication. Last spring, however, the Enviropigs were euthanized after the scientists lost their funding.
The Agriculture and Food Security Center is working on food security in Africa and attempting to eliminate hunger there and throughout the tropics within the next two to three decades.

In the mountains of Tanzania along Lake Manyara, Sanchez’ team has discovered deposits of “minjingu,” high-quality phosphate rock that is cheaper and just as efficient as triple super phosphate (a highly concentrated phosphate-based fertilizer) in terms of yields of corn per hectare.

Minjingu Mines & Fertilisers Ltd.. Photo credit: IFDC Photography

Minjingu deposits are formed by the excreta and dead bodies of cormorants and other birds that roost and die in the mountains, forming biogenic rock phosphate or guano deposits. Guano, the feces and urine of seabirds (and bats), has a high phosphorus content, and in the past was often used as fertilizer.

Sanchez’ researchers have also discovered a common bush called the Mexican Sunflower that is an efficient phosphorus collector. It grows by the side of the road, fertilized by the excreta dumped there by farmers. The farmers cut it down and use it as green manure, an organic phosphorus fertilizer which helps grow high-quality crops like vegetables.

Mexican Sunflower. Photo credit: John Tann

The Agriculture and Food Security Center team also helps farmers contain erosion and runoff by encouraging them to keep some vegetative cover, either alive or dead, on the soil year-round. This is done through intercropping, leaving crop residue in the fields, contour planting on slopes or terracing.
“There is no data to support the idea of peak phosphorus,” said Sanchez. “Just fears. New deposits are continually being discovered. We also have more efficient extraction that is getting more phosphate rock out of land-based sediments. And there is an enormous 49-gigaton deposit of phosphorus in the continental shelf from Florida to Maritime Canada that scientists have known about for years. Now there is some experimental extraction going on off the coast of North Carolina.”
Pedro Sanchez, author of Properties and Management of Soils in the Tropics published in 1976, which continues to be a bestseller, is currently working on Tropical Soils Science, an update of his previous work. It will be published by 2015.


The Story of Phosphorus:

7 reasons why we need to transform phosphorus use in the global food system

Dr Dana Cordell, Research Principal, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Australia
Read the full article: Life’s Bottleneck: Sustaining the World’s Phosphorus for a Food Secure Future

1. Phosphorus equals food
Without phosphorus, we can’t produce food. Phosphorus is as essential as water, carbon or oxygen.

Phosphorus is essential for all living matter, including bacteria, plants and animals. We get our phosphorus from the food we eat, which in turn comes from the phosphate fertilizers we apply to crops. Phosphorus fertilizer is essential for modern food production and is the limiting factor in crop yields. Phosphorus is a critical global resource, along side water and energy resources.
Around 90% of the phosphate rock extracted globally is for food production (the remainder is for industrial applications like detergents).

2. Growing food demand, growing phosphorus demand
Nine billion mouths to feed by 2050 with growing appetite for meat and dairy means increasing demand for phosphorus.

Historical sources of phosphorus fertilizers (1800-2010). Source: Cordell et al The Story of Phosphorus.

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 phosphorus intensive.
The average diet today results in the depletion of around 22.5 kilograms of phosphate rock per person each year (or 3.2 kilograms of P). This is 50 times greater than the 1.2 grams per person per day recommended daily intake of P.
Achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating hunger and achieving food security, means we must change the way we source, use and equitably distribute phosphorus in global food production. Further to market forecasts, there is a ‘silent’ demand from the many farmers with phosphorus-deficient soils who can’t afford fertilizers. The current phosphorus inequity is most evident on the African continent, which is simultaneously home to the world’s largest phosphate rock reserves (over 75% of the global share) and the continent with the lowest phosphorus fertilizer application rates, some of the most phosphorus-deficient soils and the most food insecure region.

3. Finite phosphate: we’ve used up the good stuff
The world’s main source of phosphorus fertilizer – phosphate rock – has taken millions of years to form.

Phosphate mine in Togo (Photo: A. Pugachevsky)

The majority of the world’s agricultural fields today rely on fertilizers derived from phosphate rock. Phosphate rock is a non-renewable resource that has taken 10-15 million years to form from seabed to soil via tectonic uplift and weathering. Many recent studies indicate that phosphorus demand could outstrip supply this century if no fundamental changes are made to the current trajectory, while others argue we have ‘hundreds’ of years remaining (see Peak Phosphorus).
While oil and other non-renewable natural resources can be substituted with other sources when they peak (like wind, biomass or thermal energy), phosphorus has no substitute in food production.
While there is some uncertainty about the timeline, there is consensus that the quality of remaining phosphate rock is declining. That is, the concentration of P in mined phosphate rock is decreasing and the concentration of unwanted clay particles and heavy metals like cadmium are increasing. 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 cadmium concentrations for fertilizers exist in some regions, like Western Europe). Further, remaining phosphate reserves are becoming more difficult to physically access (mining under the sea bed has begun). Extracting the same amount of phosphorus is requiring more energy, is more costly, and is generating more waste and byproducts.
With growing concern about fossil fuel scarcity, we cannot afford to continue the energy intensive process of mining, processing and transporting phosphate rock and fertilizers across the globe. Phosphate rock is one of the most highly traded commodities in the world. Around 30% of energy use in agriculture in the US is from fertilizer production and use.

4. Geopolitical risks: an issue of national security?
All farmers need phosphorus, yet just 5 countries control 88% of the worlds remaining phosphate rock reserves


Phosphate rock is unevenly distributed across the globe resulting in only a small number of countries controlling the world’s remaining reserves. According to the US Geological Survey in 2015, Morocco, China, Algeria, Syria & South Africa together control 88% of the world’s phosphate. Morocco alone controls 75% of the world’s high-quality reserves, and the Kingdom’s share is expected to increase to 80-90% in the coming decades. The US used to be the world’s largest producer, consumer, importer and exporter, yet now has approximately 20 years of reserves remaining. while China has recently imposed a 135% export tariff to secure domestic fertilizer supply, which has halted most exports.
This means all importing countries – from India to Australia to Europe – are vulnerable to price fluctuations and supply disruptions in producing countries.
Further, the phosphate rock located in Western Sahara is controlled by Morocco. While Morocco claims rightful ownership of the land and phosphates of Western Sahara, this occupation is condemned by the UN and not recognised by any other nation, nor the Saharawi people of Western Sahara, many of whom are living in refugee camps in neigbouring Algeria. Many of Scandinavia’s major banks and pension funds have divested from companies importing ‘conflict phosphates’ from Western Sahara via Morocco.

5. An inefficient global food system
Phosphorus is mis-managed: Four-fifths is lost or wasted in the supply-chain from mine to field to fork

Phosphorus is scarce not only because it is finite – but because it is mismanaged in the food system. Only one-fifth of the phosphate mined specifically for food production ends up in the food we eat globally. Four-fifths of the phosphorus is lost or wasted during mining and processing, fertilizer production and distribution, fertilizer application on farms, food production and trade, right through to the dinner table. Much of these losses could be avoided through improved practices and efficiency measures, while the remaining waste (banana peels to manure) could be captured for reuse as fertilizer.
Much of the lost phosphorus ends up in our rivers, lakes and oceans where it can cause toxic algal blooms – from the Baltic Sea, to China to the Great Lakes of North America to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Algal blooms can kill fish and other aquatic life, pollute our drinking water and damage our tourism and fishing industries.

6. Cheap fertilizer – a thing of the past for farmers
Farmers need access to phosphorus, yet up to a billion farmers lack access to fertilizer markets.

Already many of the world’s farmers can’t afford fertilizers. Sub-Saharan African farmers in some landlocked countries can pay 2-5 times more at the farm gate for fertilizers than European farmers, due to high transport costs (road/rail), handling, duties and even corruption.
In 2008, the price of phosphate rock spiked 800%. This led to farmer riots and suicides from India to Haiti.
While demand continues to increase, the cost of mining phosphate rock is increasing due to transport in addition to a decline in quality and greater expense of extraction, refinement and environmental management.
Non-food demand for phosphorus has also increased: the demand for first generation biofuel crops over the past decade increased global demand – and hence price – of phosphate rock.

7. No one is monitoring phosphorus: whose responsibility is it?
There are currently no international or national policies, guidelines or organisations responsible for ensuring long-term availability and accessibility of phosphorus for food production.

Despite being one of the world’s most critical resources, there are no international organisations like the UN taking responsibility for phosphorus security in the long term. There is no independent, comprehensive and transparent data on the world’s remaining phosphate rock and trade. The US Geological Survey collates data provided directly by companies and countries as a public service, with no way of verifying the source, assumptions and authenticity of the data.
The management of phosphorus is fragmented between many different sectors – from the mining and fertilizer sector where phosphorus is a globally-traded commodity, through to the sanitation sector where phosphorus is a pollutant, wastewater indicator and in some cases a resource to be recovered.
Whose responsibility is long-term governance of phosphorus for food security? the fertilizer industry? Investors? National governments? the UN? Agri-food companies? Food consumers? Sanitation providers?

Further reading:
Cordell D, Turner, A & Chong, J (2015), The hidden cost of phosphate fertilizers: mapping multi-stakeholder supply chain risks and impacts from mine to fork, Global Change, Peace and Security, Special Issue.

Cordell, D. & White, S (2015), Tracking phosphorus security: indicators of phosphorus vulnerability in the global food system, Food Security, Springer, Feb 2015, Vol 7, Issue 2, p.337-350.

Cordell, D. & White, S (2014), Life’s bottleneck: sustaining the world’s phosphorus for a food secure future, Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Vol. 39:161-188.
Cordell, D. & White, S. Phosphorus security: global non-governance of a critical resource for food security, Edward Elgar Encyclopedia of Global Environmental Politics and Governance, (Eds) Pattberg, P & Fariborz Zelli, F. 2015. In press.

Cordell, D. & Neset, T-S, (2014) Phosphorus vulnerability: A qualitative framework for assessing the vulnerability of national and regional food systems to the multi-dimensional stressors of phosphorus scarcity, Global Environmental Change, 24 (2014) 108–122.

How the great phosphorus shortage could leave us short of food

February 17, 2016 by Charly Faradji, University Of Bristol, And Marissa De Boer, Vu University Amsterdam, The Conversation

Testing crops in 1940s Tennessee. Credit: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum

You know that greenhouse gases are changing the climate. You probably know drinking water is becoming increasingly scarce, and that we’re living through a mass extinction.

But when did you last worry about phosphorus?

It’s not as well-known as the other issues, but phosphorus depletion is no less significant. After all, we could live without cars or unusual species, but if phosphorus ran out we’d have to live without food.

Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for all forms of life. It is a key element in our DNA and all living organisms require daily phosphorus intake to produce energy. It cannot be replaced and there is no synthetic substitute: without phosphorus, there is no life.

Our dependence began in the mid-19th century, after farmers noticed spreading phosphorus-rich guano (bird excrement) on their fields led to impressive improvements in crop yields. Soon after, mines opened up in the US and China to extract phosphate ore – rocks which contain the useful mineral. This triggered the current use of mineral fertilisers and, without this industrial breakthrough, humanity could only produce half the food that it does today.

Fertiliser use has quadrupled over the past half century and will continue rising as the population expands. The growing wealth of developing countries allows people to afford more meat which has a “phosphorus footprint” 50 times higher than most vegetables. This, together with the increasing usage of biofuels, is estimated to double the demand for phosphorus fertilisers by 2050.


Today phosphorus is also used in pharmaceuticals, personal care products, flame retardants, catalysts for chemical industries, building materials, cleaners, detergents and food preservatives.

Phosphorus is not a renewable resource

Reserves are limited and not equally spread over the planet. The only large mines are located in Morocco, Russia, China and the US. Depending on which scientists you ask, the world’s phosphate rock reserves will last for another 35 to 400 years – though the more optimistic assessments rely on the discovery of new deposits.

It’s a big concern for the EU and other countries without their own reserves, and phosphorus depletion could lead to geopolitical tensions. Back in 2008, when fertiliser prices sharply increased by 600% and directly influenced food prices, there were violent riots in 40 different developing countries.

Phosphorus also harms the environment. Excessive fertiliser use means it leaches from agricultural lands into rivers and eventually the sea, leading to so-called dead zones where most fish can’t survive. Uninhibited algae growth caused by high levels of phosphorus in water has already created more than 400 coastal death zones worldwide. Related human poisoning costs US$2.2 billion dollars annually in the US alone.

With the increasing demand for phosphorus leading to massive social and environmental issues, it’s time we looked towards more sustainable and responsible use.

There is still hope

In the past, the phosphorus cycle was closed: crops were eaten by humans and livestock while their faeces were used as natural fertilisers to grow crops again.

These days, the cycle is broken. Each year 220m tonnes of phosphate rocks are mined, but only a negligible amount makes it back into the soil. Crops are transported to cities and the waste is not returned to the fields but to the sewage system, which mainly ends up in the sea. A cycle has become a linear process.

We could reinvent a modern phosphorus cycle simply by dramatically reducing our consumption. After all, less than a third of the phosphorus in fertilisers is actually taken up by plants; the rest accumulates in the soil or is washed away. To take one example, in the Netherlands there is enough phosphorus in the soil today to supply the country with fertiliser for the next 40 years.

Food wastage is also directly linked to phosphorus overuse. In the most developed countries, 60% of discarded food is edible. We could also make agriculture smarter, optimising the amount of phosphorus used by specially selecting low-fertiliser crops or by giving chickens and pigs a special enzyme that helps them digest phosphorus more efficiently and therefore avoid extensive use of phosphorus-heavy growth supplements.
It takes vast amounts of energy to transform phosphate ore into “elemental phosphorus”, the more reactive and pure form used in other, non-agricultural sectors. Inventing a quicker route from raw rocks to industrially-useful compounds is one of the big challenges facing the future generation. The EU, which only has minimal reserves, is investing in research aimed at saving energy – and phosphorus.

We could also close the phosphorus cycle by recycling it. Sewage, for instance, contains phosphorus yet it is considered waste and is mainly incinerated or released into the sea. The technology to extract this phosphorus and reuse it as fertiliser does exist, but it’s still at an early stage of development.

When considering acute future challenges, people do not often think about phosphorus. However, securing enough food for the world’s population is at least as important as the development of renewable energy and the reduction of greenhouse gases. To guarantee long-term food security, changes in the way we use phosphorus today are vital.

The world is running out of phosphorus, which threatens global food supply

A good way to scare yourself is by googling “phosphorus shortage.” Agriculture requires lots of phosphorus for fertilizer, and after it’s spread on crops, most of it gets washed into the ocean, where it is irrecoverable. Without phosphorus, food production will plummet, unless people come up with new ways to grow food.

From the Global And Chinese Phosphate Fertilizer Industry, 2018 Market Research Report:
In 2007, at the current rate of consumption, the supply of phosphorus was estimated to run out in 345 years. However, some scientists thought that a “peak phosphorus” will occur in 30 years and Dana Cordell from Institute for Sustainable Futures said that at “current rates, reserves will be depleted in the next 50 to 100 years.”

From The Conversation:
Fertiliser use has quadrupled over the past half century and will continue rising as the population expands. The growing wealth of developing countries allows people to afford more meat which has a “phosphorus footprint” 50 times higher than most vegetables. This, together with the increasing usage of biofuels, is estimated to double the demand for phosphorus fertilisers by 2050.

Today phosphorus is also used in pharmaceuticals, personal care products, flame retardants, catalysts for chemical industries, building materials, cleaners, detergents and food preservatives.

From Critical Shots:
The greatest natural reserves of unmined phosphorus exist in [Morocco]…
According to the USGS, 42% of all phosphorus imported by the United States between 2012-2015 came from Morocco. China beats them out by a tremendous margin in production, but based on the most recent data Morocco and Western Sahara combined are sitting on 50,000,000,000 metric tons of reserves.

From NPR:
GRANTHAM: We’re on a finite planet with finite reserves of phosphorus. And we are mining it and running through the supply. That should make the hair on the back of everybody’s neck bristle.

SMITH: There are widely ranging estimates for just how close we are to the phosphorus cliff. Maybe we’ve got 30 years. Maybe we have 300 years. It’s hard to estimate. This is Jeremy’s take.

GRANTHAM: Whether it’s 42 years, 62 years or 82 years doesn’t really matter. We have to change our way of growing food.

DUFFIN: We’ve known for a while that phosphorus was limited. But the price was cheap, and the problem just seemed so distant, so people were kind of like, meh, we’ll deal with that problem later.

SMITH: Then 2008 happened – the financial crisis. And along with many commodities, phosphate prices spiked, which – because of its use as a fertilizer – made food prices skyrocket. And now everybody’s talking about phosphorus.

NARRATOR: Across the developing world in 2008, hungry people rioted as food supplies ran low and the price of phosphate rock spiked by 800 percent.

GRANTHAM: I would argue that that was a shot across the bows. That was the first warning to planet Earth that we are beginning to run out.

From MIT:
China is a very inefficient consumer of fertilizer: a recent China Agriculture University study found that northern Chinese farmers use about 525 pounds of fertilizer per acre, of which 200 pounds is wasted into the environment. This is six times more fertilizer and 23 times more waste than the average American farmer in the midwest uses and produces (Shwartz, 2009). These phenomena of growth and overuse, coinciding with peak production, will drive prices drastically higher and force a number of changes in the world’s food production and consumption. The potential for catastrophic food shortages and global famine looms without significant systemic changes.

Scarcity of phosphorus threat to global food production

Date: March 17, 2010
Source: Expertanswer
Summary: Phosphorus is just as important to agriculture as water. But a lack of availability and accessibility of phosphorus is an emerging problem that threatens our capacity to feed the global population. Like nitrogen and potassium, it is a nutrient that plants take up from the soil and it is crucial to soil fertility and crop growth.

Phosphorus is just as important to agriculture as water. But a lack of availability and accessibility of phosphorus is an emerging problem that threatens our capacity to feed the global population. Like nitrogen and potassium, it is a nutrient that plants take up from the soil and it is crucial to soil fertility and crop growth.

“Unless something is done, the scarcity of phosphorus will cause problems of a global dimension. As early as 2035 it is calculated that the demand for phosphorus map outpace the supply,” says Dana Cordell, who presented her thesis at the Department of Thematic Studies — Water and Environmental Studies, Linköping University, Sweden on the implications of phosphorus scarcity on global food security.

Phosphorus is extracted from phosphate rock, a non-renewable resource that is used almost exclusively in agriculture. Two thirds of the world’s resources are in China, Morocco, and Western Sahara.

“The demand for phosphorus has increased and prices soared by 800 percent between 2006 and 2008,” says Dana Cordell.

Cordell maintains that the shortage of phosphorus in not simply due to a drop in the availability of phosphate ore. Many of the world’s farmers do not have enough purchasing power to be able to afford and use phosphorus-based fertilizer, which means their soil is becoming depleted. What’s more, phosphorus use in the food system from mine to field to fork is currently so inefficient that only one fifth of the phosphorus in the rock that is mined actually makes its way into our food.

“There is a lack of effective international governance to secure long-term access to phosphorus for food production,” says Dana Cordell, who adds that the way phosphorus resources are handled needs to be improved.

Phosphorus needs to be applied and management in agriculture more efficiently, we need to eat more vegetarian food, and increase efficiency throughout the food chain. At the same time we need to recover and reuse a large part of the phosphorus that exists in crop residues, food waste, manures human faeces and other sources.

“If nothing is done, food production runs the risk of a hard landing in the future, including further fertilizer price increases, increasing environmental effects of pollution, energy and resource consumption, smaller harvests, reduced farmer livelihoods and reduced food security,” says Dana Cordell.

The dissertation is titled The Story of Phosphorus: Sustainability Implications of Global Phosphorus Scarcity for Food Security.


Fighting Peak Phosphorus

Eliminating depletion and environmental damage with efficient phosphorus use and reuse.
Earth’s phosphorus is being depleted at an alarming rate. At current consumption levels, we will run out of known phosphorus reserves in around 80 years, but consumption will not stay at current levels. Nearly 90% of phosphorus is used in the global food supply chain, most of it in crop fertilizers. If no action is taken to quell fertilizer use, demand is likely to increase exponentially.
(Prud’Homme, 2010, from Schroder et. al., 2010)

A simple program of smart demand reduction and increased organic waste recycling, supplemented with mining exploration in probable deposit areas, can delay, if not completely avoid, a peak in phosphorus production for several decades. However, it is imperative to take action now. There was a time when humans operated totally self-sufficient farms, tilling the same land for years by managing waste effectively, by simply making sure that everything that came out of the land eventually went back into it. In such a closed-loop scenario, phosphate would have the capacity to be reused approximately 46 times as food, fuel, fertilizer, and food again [1]. In the fertilizing techniques that dominate today, which involve the annual application of phosphate-enriched chemical mixtures on top of nutrient-starved soil, phosphorus is used exactly once, then swept out to sea. This practice is simply unsustainable. Our ancestors learned the importance of conserving nutrients through necessity: if they could not make the soil yield, they would starve; there were no second chances. The world has a chance, now, to learn this lesson again, before it’s too late.


The United States is unique in that it is both a wealthy, industrialized nation at the forefront of technology, and an agricultural powerhouse with the third-largest population in the world. In the 1970s and early 1980s, during the early years of the Green Revolution, the US’s production of food commodities shot up, as did their use of artificial nitrogen-phosphorus fertilizers. The USSR followed a similar agricultural path, and as a result, worldwide phosphorus production grew from about 8 Mt/y in 1960 to over 20 Mt/y at its peak in the mid-1980s. Following this milestone, the world actually entered a period of reduced production and use that lasted until just a few years ago. While some have speculated that peak phosphorus production has already been reached, it seems more likely that the relatively short dip in production was merely the a coincidence of reduced use in the wake of the USSR’s collapse and more efficient practices being adopted by US farmers, while the rest of the world’s food production was still catching up.

The world has caught up. In the past 30 years, the US has gone from the world’s top phosphate consumer to the third largest, and now exports more phosphorus than it consumes (World Bank, 2012). Most of the new phosphorus use has been in India and China, which, together, now account for over 45% of the world’s total consumption . However, the United States’ total food production has not faltered at all in that time; in fact, it has improved significantly . This is due to more efficient farming practices and greater utilization of organic waste, as well as increased awareness of the problem among today’s farmers. The same shift towards efficiency and moderation has occurred among farmers in the EU as well, and it may be extrapolated that this is the natural progression followed by agricultural countries as they mature past rapid expansion to more stable, sustainable production levels. The biggest challenge, then, is not cutting back on phosphorus use in developed countries, but reigning in the growth of demand in rapidly developing ones.

Saving Phosphorus

Mission 2016 proposes a 3-part plan to cut back on global phosphorus consumption, especially in areas with growing demand, increase efforts to recycle phosphorus in human and animal waste, and assess new potential mining zones.

1. Reduce demand through smarter fertilizer use

It is the opinion of Mission 2016 that the single largest problem with phosphorus fertilizer use is overuse. The amount of phosphorous actually required to maintain a farm is highly variable, and depends on factors such as soil conditions, crop type, crop history, geography, and weather patterns. This makes it very difficult for farmers, especially those operating small, independent operations in developing countries, to accurately assess their fertilizer needs, and leads to superfluous application. Excess fertilizer is not only wasteful, it runs off into lakes, rivers, and oceans, where it causes massive, unnatural algae blooms. These photosynthetic microbe colonies cover huge areas of water, then die off, leaving behind sediment that blocks sunlight and destroys the aquatic ecosystems beneath them.

Experienced farmers can learn the most efficient amounts of fertilizer to use through years of experience, which is part of the reason agriculturally mature nations have better fertilizer-to-yield ratios than developing nations. In addition, scientific, quantitative data analysis can be applied to farmland to determine the proper amount of fertilizer to use in a given situation. The Wisconsin phosphorus index is an example of a tool, developed jointly by the government and the University of Wisconsin and optimized for a specific region. It includes SnapPlus, a free software that allows farmers to estimate their optimal fertilization plan from home .

This program will be used as a model for a worldwide campaign, focusing on the fastest-developing, highest consuming nations. For this purpose, a United Nations (UN) task force will be established within the Food and Agriculture Organization, within the Economic and Social Development Department, comprised of approximately 200 agents with agricultural and educational experience with a budget of $30 million per year. The average UN salary is approximately $119,000 per year , and an additional 6 million USD/a will be allocated for transportation, supplies, and expenses. The task force will develop a template, similar to the one developed by the University of Wisconsin, which can be adapted to specific regions around the globe. It will work closely with state and regional governments and agricultural institutions to provide accessible information for all local farmers, even those who do not own or have access to a computer. The force should emphasize the economic, environmental, and long-term benefits of sustainable phosphorus use to its clients. While it will not work directly with farmers, it will aim to instill the ideas of conservation and sustainability into the local bodies responsible for the agricultural health of their communities.

A recent China Agriculture University study found that northern Chinese farmers use about 92 kg of phosphorus fertilizer per acre, of which only 39 kg are removed as crops. This means 53 kg, fully 58% of phosphorus, is not utilized and ultimately lost into the environment (21). As China is the largest phosphorus consumer in the world, with 5.2 Mt consumed in 2009 alone , reducing the country’s phosphorus waste by even half would save the world over 1.5 Mt of phosphorus (3.45 Mt phosphate) per year.

2. Stretch current supplies further through recycling

The primary means by which phosphorus is reintroduced to the environment post-consumption is animal waste. Though manure is still used extensively around the world as fertilizer, human waste that was once returned directly to the soil is now collected in municipal waste facilities and often released to the ocean. Although most of the recoverable nutrients are currently lost, centralized municipal collection facilities offer a means to recycle large quantities of phosphorus with relatively little effort.
Struvite, or magnesium ammonium phosphate, is a hard, clear crystal that occurs naturally when ammonium-producing bacteria break down the urea in urine. It’s the substance that causes kidney stones, and for centuries, it has been the bane of sewage system operators the world over, forming hard, rock-like crystal deposits on the inside of pipes that can build up and block off flow. However, struvite is a benign, non-toxic substance, and it can be used as a rich, slow-release phosphate fertilizer. In fact, struvite outperforms diammonium phosphate (DAP), the most widely-used fertilizer today (15), on a unit-for-unit basis in terms of dry matter production, phosphorus uptake, and extractable residual phosphorus (14). Although struvite is preferable to DAP in most circumstances, in the past, it has only been used for high-value crops due to its higher cost (14).

In the past decade, phosphorus recovery has been the subject of intense research, and there are several new, economical methods by which it can be accomplished, many involving struvite formation. One technique, developed by University of British Columbia professor Don Mavinic, involves a cone-shaped reaction chamber in which small struvite crystals combine with magnesium, ammonium, and the phosphorus in wastewater on its way to a biosolids processor (X). The crystals grow until they are large enough to be collected by a filter and removed. These systems prevent struvite buildup in pipes, prevent phosphorus pollution in water basins, and provide valuable, usable phosphorus fertilizers. A company, Osatra Nutrient Recovery Technologies, Inc., was founded around the technology, and the struvite fertilizer the process creates is marketed as Crystal Green® (X). Another technology involves using charged, molecular “templates” to induce the formation of large crystals in liquid manure (X). Struvite-based methods can recover upwards of 90% of wastewater phosphorus (X,Y). Biological capture is a promising area of research as well, and involves cultivating phosphorus-hungry algae in the phosphate-rich side streams of waste treatment facilities, yielding 60-65% recovery rates (X). A third possible recovery method is through thermochemical treatments, which burn waste sludges to ash and then convert the contained phosphorus to bioavailable forms free from toxic heavy metal loads; this method can feasibly reach 100% recovery (20, X).

As is the case with improving fertilizer efficiency, the European Union, Canada, and the US have led the world in phosphorus recovery. By 2007, 53% of sewage sludges in the EU were already reused in agriculture , and in 2009, Sweden passed legislation to have at least 60% of its total phosphorus streams from wastewater diverted for agricultural use by 2015 (18, X). By 2009, Osatra struvite systems had been installed in Edmonton, Alberta; Portland, Oregon; and York, Pennsylvania, and the company had plans to expand to the UK and the Netherlands. The progress made by these countries is significant, but the greater problems, and potential gains, lie with China, India, and other fast-developing areas. If these areas begin implementing significant amounts of high-quality, renewable phosphate fertilizer into their supply chain early during their agricultural maturation, their demands for imports will not rise nearly as dramatically as they could.

To this end, Mission 2016 will establish a domain of the Open Information Exchange to deal specifically with phosphorus recycling techniques. As established above, there is a plethora of scientific research being done on the subject, although most of it is taking place in Europe. Working in conjunction with the governments and relevant research bodies of the world’s fastest-growing phosphorus consumers, the task force will promote the development of economical, efficient applications of new and cutting-edge recycling technologies that are tailored to specific regions. Its goal will be to reduce their waste and increase their recycling, and it will emphasize the economic potential of such systems: one analysis by the Stockholm Environmental Institute (SEI) estimated the potential of phosphorus wastewater recovery in East Asia at more than 625 million USD annually (22). In addition, the Strategic Minerals Association (SMA) of the UN, described in the Protocol section of our solution, will work to draft a treaty between the top phosphorus consumers in the world, currently China, India, the United States, the European Union, and Brazil, to set a target of 50% total phosphorus recovery from wastewater by 2025. The SMA will also provide investment capital in the form of loans to municipal waste processing companies looking to install phosphorus-recycling technology.

However, the most critical applications of waste recycling will be in places that lack access to conventional sources of phosphate fertilizers. Many farmers in sub-saharan Africa simply can’t afford artificial fertilizers, if they can even find them; yet the same SEI study estimated the value of recoverable fertilizers from waste in the region at 800 million USD (22). According to a 2009 study by renowned soil scientist Pedro Sanchez, the average Kenyan farmer uses just 8 kg of phosphorus and 7 kg of nitrogen per hectare, far less than the 14 kg P and 93 kg N used in the US and the staggering 92 kg P and 588 kg N used in China. This is not efficient use, it is insufficient use, and it causes food shortages and starvation. Magnesium waste scrubbing (struvite-forming) technologies would appear to be an easy solution in these cases, too, but kind of infrastructural investment that the technology represents requires a level of maintenance that impoverished areas simply can’t support. Without proper upkeep, the struvite filters can become clogged and dirty, breeding malignant bacteria and doing more harm than good (X).

For poor, underdeveloped communities, better waste-recovery solutions are often low-tech, small-scale affairs. SEI has explored simple, outhouse-style toilets, able to be constructed locally and maintained with minimal skill or effort. The temporary installations will collect waste for a number of years, then transition to compost pits suitable for planting trees. Some variants include a method for collecting and storing urine, which may be used as a fertilizer for greens, onions, maize, and many other crops. The Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG) has been applying a similar minimalist approach in Nepal, where a simplified struvite extraction reactor of their own development turns urine into a usable, dry powder fertilizer. As of 2010, the process was not totally refined, but it had been met with tremendous local support.

The UN, through the World Food Program (WFP), will fund efforts to implement these technologies in sub-saharan Africa and elsewhere, beginning on a small scale. In 2010, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation pledged 3 million USD in a grant to the EAWAG towards a test sewage-recovery program for sub-saharan African communities (23). The WFP will match that amount to start, to conduct a similar, 4-year pilot program. At the conclusion of the program, or in the middle should it prove extraordinarily successful, the WFP will convene to discuss the results and determine the long-term viability of the technology. It will allocate additional funds for a permanent organ of the WFP dedicated to fertilizer recovery from waste. Hopefully, once the concepts are proven, private charities will appropriate a significant portion of the cost, as they have in the past.

3. Explore new mining areas to determine actual total reserves

According to some peak phosphorus alarmists, the world is running out of viable reserves in the very near future (EU paper). Their estimates often use United States Geological Survey (USGS) data on total world reserves, but each year, USGS estimates change, usually to expand reserves, and sometimes dramatically. The largest discoveries as of late are in Morocco or the Western Sahara, and there is as of yet no definitive world total of high-grade phosphate deposits. By determining the actual amount of phosphorus available, more accurate plans can be made for a sustainable future. Currently, there is far too much uncertainty about how much recoverable phosphate the earth has left.
The USGS has extensive geological resources at their disposal, and they have mapped out the mineral profiles of foreign countries several times in the past. Mission 2016 advises that the World Trade Organization (WTO) facilitate treaties between the US and other countries in which the USGS works with other governments to map geological profiles worldwide, creating a database of areas with potentially tappable mineral reserves. Following this initial study, increasing supply becomes a free market solution, as corporations use this information, conduct follow-up studies, and open new mines. This will be a beneficial situation for all parties involved, and in the end will be good for the world.

Development Policy Review Network. (2011). Phosphorus depletion: the invisible crisis. Retrieved from
(Development Policy Review Network, 2011)
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