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Phosphorus is an essential element used in agriculture. Overexploitation of phosphate rock mines suggest a lack of this resource within 10 to 20 years. There will no longer be enough phosphorus to meet global agricultural demand. It will be necessary to deploy recovery solutions such as Solugen’s technology to address the upcoming lack of this vital element.

Phosphorus is a nutritious and vital element

In order for a plant to grow, it needs water and 13 nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. One of these nutrients, phosphorus, is at high risk of disappearing over the next few decades. Phosphorus is essential for plant development. Among others, phosphorus contributes to transporting energy to the cells. Phosphorus stimulates root development, flowering and fruiting. It also enables plants to resist the effects of frost. Without this crucial element, agricultural production would not be possible.

Agriculture utilizes phosphorus intensively.  One founds phosphorus in metals such as iron and aluminum. However, little phosphorus naturally present in soils is available and plants cannot fully assimilate it.

Phosphate rock mining

The industrialization of phosphate rock mines started at the beginning of the 20th century. However, phosphorus is an exhaustible resource and there are currently no substitutes. Exploitable phosphate rocks are concentrated in a limited number of locations: Morocco (the largest producer), China, South Africa and the United States.

According to several studies, such as Dana Cordell’s of Linköping University in Sweden, the world phosphate reserves will be depleted within 50 to 100 years. The United States Geological Survey and the International Fertilizer Industry Association predict exhaustion of phosphate reserves within 100 to 125 years. However, it is estimated that from the 2040-50s onwards, production of phosphorus will enter a period of deficiency. In other words, its demand will be higher than its availability.

Population growth

By 2050, it is likely that the world’s population will have passed the 10 billion mark. The food production will therefore have to increase drastically in order to meet the needs of the world’s population. A situation that is worrying, since phosphorus will be less and less available.

Which solutions are available?

It will be necessary to consider conservatory techniques such as reducing losses and recovery of phosphorus to meet global demand. Numerous researchers are currently addressing this problem and working to find alternative solutions. One option would be to control the excess phosphorus found on farmlands. During heavy rains, this excess of phosphorus present in the water runoff contaminates groundwater, and ends up in the water streams. This leads to water contamination and phosphorus becomes irrecoverable. Checking the excess could be for instance to stop the spreading of manure, since its use is not optimal. For agriculture, one solution could be to install buffer strips on fields that would absorb the excess of  phosphorus. Finally, all phosphorus recovery techniques are important and useful.

Solugen’s contribution

In this perspective, in addition, to extract more than 80% of the water from the slurry and purify it, to eliminate more than 65% of the GHGs (greenhouse gases) associated with pork production; the solution reduces odors during the storing and spreading processes.

Fertilizers revalorized with the Solugen process come in three different forms:

  • 4.5% of the initial volume in the form of liquid organic fertilizer including 93% potassium,
  • 1.5 % liquid fertilizer including 65% nitrogen,
  • 10 % solid organic fertilizer including 85% phosphorus and almost all of the organic material

These fertilizers thus recovered become a valuable product for farmers as recycled fertilizers. The spreading of manure, due to its large quantity produced, can lead to an excessive fertilization of the land. This results in pollution and loss of fertilizer.  Solugen’s technology is an answer to this problematic situation. Solugen’s process revalorizes completely the slurry by separating the fluids from the solid masses and purifying the contaminated water. Conventional spreading, a global practice, may then change to leave room to  a solution that significantly reduces the risk of eutrophication of watercourses and the runoff of fertilizing elements. The concentrated phosphorus thus recovered will become quite useful for agriculture, a sector that will eventually be in need.

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