PHOSPHATE

Phosphorus is essential to life. It is a finite natural resource that cannot be manufactured and there is no substitute for it in agriculture.

Phosphate rock is used for both unprocessed phosphate and beneficiated phosphate. In phosphate fertilizer terminology, phosphate ore usually refers to unprocessed phosphate from the mine, and rock concentrate usually refers to the beneficiated phosphate suitable for further downstream processing into phosphoric acid and other phosphate products.

There are two principal types of phosphate, sedimentary and igneous. Sedimentary phosphate rock comes from sediment that was deposited in layers on the sea floor. The phosphate rich sediments are believed to have formed from precipitation of phosphate from seawater along with the skeletons and waste products of creatures living in the seas. Sedimentary phosphates represent about 80% of the total deposits. Igneous phosphate rock can be found in Russia, Brazil, Canada, Mozambique, and the Republic of South Africa. Both igneous and sedimentary rocks that have been subject to high temperature and pressure may form metamorphic phosphate.

Phosphate rock (whether igneous or sedimentary) is often called apatite. Technically, apatite is a crystalline form of un-weathered igneous phosphate rock. Both ore types may vary considerably in chemical and mineralogical composition, and consequently many beneficiation processes have evolved to treat the different phosphate ore deposits. Most often the objective of beneficiation is to produce phosphate rock suitable for making phosphoric acid and granular phosphatic fertilizers. The most important use of phosphate rock is in the production of phosphate fertilizer for agriculture and over 80% of the global production goes into fertilizer.

The main demand drivers for the fertilizer industry are:

  • Population growth
  • Changing dietary patterns.
  • The bio-fuel sector

The first and the second factors have driven fertilizer growth from the 1960’s through to the late 1990’s. All three have combined to provide significant consumption since.

The global population is predicted to be around 9 billion by 2050 and the challenge of feeding this number of people is already on the minds of governments and futurists globally. More agri-nutrients (fertilizer) will be required but the effectiveness of these nutrients and their interaction with the soil the seeds and the environment will need constant innovative approaches given there is unlikely to be any increase of arable land (land suitable for growing crops or pasture) available to grow the food required to support this population growth. The other major challenge is being able to provide the amounts of water required in the right areas to support population growth and crop growth.

WORLD POPULATION VERSUS ARABLE LAND

mnb_phosphate_world-population-versus-arable-land-01
Source: The World Bank

As the population increases it seems prosperity also enables a larger amount of the population to afford or spend more on better food. The demand for meat and proteins is on a very steep growth curve and the requirements of fertilizer and water must increase exponentially to match the demand. This demand will likely put the most pressure on available arable land.

The biofuels industry continues its progressive growth anticipating the reduction of availability and increasing cost of fossil fuels. The challenge for the long term viability of biofuels is the economics of the amount of land required to grow the feedstock (e.g. corn to convert to ethanol) versus growing food for consumption over the long term.

The above challenges notwithstanding, the need for phosphate will always be essential to sustain human life and Minbos is committed to developing new sources of phosphate and providing high quality product to global fertilizer producers.

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