15 Facts You Absolutely Need To Know About Phosphorus

phosphorus crisis

Everyone’s talking about the phosphorus crisis! (See NY Times, Der Spiegel, Foreign Policy).

It turns out we’re running out of this critical element that’s necessary for fertiliser.

And if we run out, we’ll be set back 50 years in agriculture — and that means billions of people without food.

So we thought we’d break it all down.

Phosphorus makes up around 12% of all commercial fertiliser. It is irreplaceable.

Phosphorus-based fertiliser enabled us to feed a global population that has tripled since WW2... and will increase 33% by 2050

Use of phosphorous rock has increased 1100% since WW2

Over half of phosphorus consumption takes place in the developing world and is growing rapidly

Moderate estimates put global demand at 3% increase per year

Unfortunately, we're hitting peak phosphorous in 2035

Phosphorus is technically a renewable resource... but it takes 10 million years to return to the soil

90% of global reserves is controlled by five countries: Morocco, China, South Africa, USA, and Jordan

America's phosphorus production is declining... and will be exhausted by 2050

After exporting for decades, America now imports 10% of its supply

Source: Foreign Policy

China imposed a 135% phosphorus tariff in 2008 (thankfully we have a trade deal with Morocco)

Source: Foreign Policy

Oil shortages recently caused an 800% spike in phosphate prices... contributing to high food costs and worldwide riots

Phosphate costs seven times more today than it did in 1960

Source: USDA

The only option is massive industrial treatment of waste water to recover phosphorus.

And now, a brief history of phosphorus

Phosphorus was the Greek name for the morning star, also known as Lucifer.

The element was discovered in 1669 when a German alchemist boiled down 50 buckets of urine in search of the Philosopher's Stone.

Phosphorus was used in incendiary bombs in WW2. It also has industrial applications, such as in laundry detergent.

But the most important use (90% of consumption) is in fertiliser.

This is why we have a phosphorus problem...

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