19 March 2014

Do you know about peak phosphorus?

Jiwon Choi writes:*

Today, many people are concerned about peak oil, which means after reaching the maximum point of production, suddenly, oil supply will decrease. Oil is an important resource in agriculture, transportation, and energy. However, most people are forgetting about phosphorus, which is an important source of energy in agricultural system. What is phosphorus and peak phosphorus? It is a chemical, the 15th element from the periodic table, which can be obtained from mining phosphate rocks. Phosphorus is an important source of energy to make a fertilizer and we were using phosphorus to produce fertilizer more than a hundreds of years. Recently, demand on fertilizers increased, which means increase in demand of phosphorus. The total reserve of phosphate rocks across the country is over 51000 metric tons. Under the sea, there are more phosphate rocks, but it is hard to mining it.

Peak phosphorus will occur when phosphate rocks run out which will reduce supply of phosphorus. The side effect from running out of phosphorus will be an increase in price of fertilizers, and food shortage. This means it will be hard to grow crops and will cause increase in price of corns and wheat. Corns and sugar canes are sources of foods, but also it is source of energy which we can obtain ethanol from them. Peak phosphorus will cause increase food price, food shortage and energy price. Then what is the solution to this situation? In order to obtain phosphorus other than rocks, we can recycle human bio-waste. Using bio-waste is efficient, because waste can be recyclable and it reduces the demands of phosphate rocks. It can also help in regulating population growth in high population countries.**

By limiting population rate, it will decrease food demand, and it will prevent over mining of phosphate rocks. If our population grew rapidly, there would be more demand on foods and peak phosphor might reach earlier than 2033. In twenty years, scientists are expecting phosphorus will reach the peak of its production. We need to do research on new technologies that can help us obtain phosphorus from something other than phosphate rocks.

Bottom Line: In my point of view, what I learned in my resource management class, peak phosphorus will be happen if we overuse phosphate rocks or fail to find substitution for phosphate rocks. We need to find new ways of make new kind of fertilizers.

* These guest posts are from students in my resource economics class at Simon Fraser University. Please leave feedback on their logic, ideas and style and suggestions of how to improve.

** Editor's note: I'm very curious about this connection.

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