Thursday, September 15, 2011

The End of Phosphorus

From NPR

“A key ingredient in fertilizer, phosphorus is becoming more rare, more expensive -- which is stimulating some innovative ways to find more.

KAI RYSSDAL: You've heard, perhaps, of the theory of peak oil -- the idea that there's only so much crude out there to be had and when we start to run out, that's it.

There's another critical resource out there whose coming peak has gotten much less attention. But unlike oil, it has no alternative. We truly can't live without phosphorus. The vast majority of the world's supply is locked up in just one country. So how do we fight the coming phosphorus shortage?

The answer, says Marketplace's Jeff Horwich, lies not in our stars, but -- quite literally -- in ourselves.

Phosphorus binds our DNA together. There's no substitute for phosphorus in agriculture or in biology -- we can't just swap something else in there, that's not going to work. That's why it's a critical ingredient in fertilizer. If you buy "10-10-10," say for your garden, that middle number -- that's phosphorus. Here's the problem: The world uses so much fertilizer, and so much phosphorus -- and there's only so much in the ground. Morocco is the kingpin of phosphate right now -- 85 percent of the global phosphate reserves are

now identified in Morocco.

So what usually happens when you have insatiable demand and closely held supply? Well, phosphate prices are up 150 percent since 2007; 60 percent in just the last year. Fertilizer is already too expensive for many farmers in Africa. American farmers and consumers feel that same pinch.

So other than digging in Morocco, where do we get more phosphorus?

Here's a hint: the symbol for phosphorus on the periodic table... is "P." And there it is -- the valuable byproduct. All over the place.

Recycling in the face of resource scarcity is not a new idea. It's just we now will probably have to do this with phosphorus.”

You can listen to the full story at the link below.

American Public Media/ Marketplace, aired on NPR, Monday, September 12, 2011.

No comments: