The element’s global importance lies in its use to help crop growth. About 50m tonnes of phosphate fertiliser are sold around the world every year, and these supplies play a crucial role in feeding the planet’s 8 billion inhabitants.
However, significant deposits of phosphorus are found in only a few countries: Morocco and western Sahara have the largest amount, China the second biggest deposit and Algeria the third. In contrast, reserves in the US are down to 1% of previous levels, while Britain has always had to rely on imports. “Traditional rock phosphate reserves are relatively rare and have become depleted in line with their extraction for fertiliser production,” added Johnes.
This growing strain on stocks has raised fears the world will reach “peak phosphorus” in a few years. Supplies will then decline, leaving many nations struggling to obtain enough to feed their people.
Bollocks. They think mineral reserves are the amount available.
Reserves are the working stock of extant mines. Resources are the amount available for us. And note. Not the total amount, just the amount we know about in this particular form that we mine, phosphate rock:
Some world reserves were reported only in terms of ore tonnage and grade. Phosphate rock
resources occur principally as sedimentary marine phosphorites. The largest sedimentary deposits are found in
northern Africa, the Middle East, China, and the United States. Significant igneous occurrences are found in Brazil,
Canada, Finland, Russia, and South Africa. Large phosphate resources have been identified on the continental
shelves and on seamounts in the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. World resources of phosphate rock are more
than 300 billion tons. There are no imminent shortages of phosphate rock.
Again, that’s phosphate rock, not phosphorous. That, the element, is some 0.1% of the lithosphere.
23,000–24,000 × 1015 metric tons.
Or, 2,300,000,000,000,000 tonnes of phosphorous on the planet.
Which is possibly quite enough to be going on with.
“We have reached a critical turning point,” said Prof Phil Haygarth of Lancaster University. “We might be able to turn back but we have really got to pull ourselves together and be an awful lot smarter in the way we use phosphorus. If we don’t, we face a calamity that we have termed ‘phosphogeddon’.”
Phosphorus was discovered in 1669 by the German scientist Hennig Brandt, who isolated it from urine, and it has since been shown to be essential to life. Bones and teeth are largely made of the mineral calcium phosphate – a compound derived from it – while the element also provides DNA with its sugar phosphate backbone.
“To put it simply, there is no life on Earth without phosphorus,” exlpained Prof Penny Johnes of Bristol University.
Abolish Lancaster and Bristol universities. By lunchtime.