Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for all plants and animals. It is also one of the three key components (together with nitrogen and potassium) of fertilizers, and so is crucial for enabling the world’s food supply.
However, accessible world phosphate reserves are declining at an alarming rate. Peak phosphorus could occur by 2030, and there will be insufficient reserves to meet global demand. The rate of extraction is also rapidly increasing – by 10% in China during 2008.
Five countries control 90% of the world’s reserves of rock phosphate. China, the largest producer, has begun to safeguard its supplies by imposing a 135% tariff on exports in mid-2008. Phosphate extraction has now peaked in the US and reserves are being depleted. The US is now dependent on phosphate imports. As oil prices rise, the cost for transporting phosphorus from remote mining operations in the Western Sahara (Morocco), South Africa, and Jordan, is also likely to increase the price of phosphate.
There is no synthetic alternative to phosphorus, so unless this vital resource is more carefully managed, or a means of recycling it is developed, the impact will be immense – including falling farm output, higher food prices, growing food insecurity and escalating geopolitical challenges.
In 2007–8, the price of phosphate unexpectedly increased 500%, due partly to the growing demand for biofuels to replace oil, and tight supplies. The price of Di-ammonium phosphate (DAP) fertilizer increased by five times in just 15 months. DAP sold for about US $252 per metric ton in January 2007, then almost tripled to $688 by January 2008 —and then doubled again, to about $1,230 per ton over the next 3 months.
Over 90% of mined phosphate rock is used for food production and the long-term forecast is that this demand will rise with population growth and increased demand for food. Increases in meat-based diets (e.g. China and India), and growing demand for agriculture-based biomass to produce biofuels will also impact the need for phosphate.
The Multiform technology can help halt the non-sustainable use of phosphorus by recycling this vital resource from wastewater and livestock waste. It also generates a slow-release fertilizer that is more environmentally friendly and less wasteful than current alternatives.