Foskor - Phosphate From The Earth | iinfo TZANEEN

Phosphorus, the 11th most common element on earth, is fundamental to all living things. It is essential for the creation of DNA, cell membranes, and for bone and teeth formation in humans. It is vital for food production since it is one of three nutrients (nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus) used in commercial fertilizer. Phosphorus cannot be manufactured or destroyed, and has no synthetic version or substitute.  
 
Why is this relevant, you may ask? Well, the mine just outside Phalaborwa, Limpopo-town at the Phalaborwa Gate to the Kruger National Park, specializes in mining for phosphorus. Are we using it up faster than we can economically extract it?
 
Good news! This precious mineral is a renewable resource and there is plenty of it left on earth. Animals and humans excrete almost 100 percent of the phosphorus they consume in food. In the past, as part of a natural cycle, the phosphorus in manure and waste was returned to the soil to assist crop production. Today phosphorus is an essential component of commercial fertilizer.
 
Phosphorus is one of the major plant nutrients in the soil. It is a constituent of plant cells, essential for cell division and development of the growing tip of the plant. This is why it is vital for seedlings and young plants.
 
Bad news: industrial agriculture moves food around the world for processing and consumption, disrupting the natural cycle that returned phosphorus to the soil via the decomposition of plants. Thus, in many areas fertilizer must now be continually applied to enrich the soil’s nutrients.
 
Most of the phosphorus used in fertilizer comes from phosphate rock, a finite resource formed in the earth’s crust over thousands of years. Ninety percent of the world’s mined phosphate rock is used in agriculture and food production, mostly as fertilizer, less as animal feed and food additives.
 
Pedro Sanchez, director of the Agriculture and Food Security Centre at the Earth Institute, claims that “all the most reliable estimates show that we have enough phosphate rock resources to last between 300 and 400 more years.”
 
Ninety percent of the phosphate rock reserves are located in just five countries: Morocco, China, South Africa, Jordan and the United States. Despite the prevalence of phosphorus on earth, only a small percentage of it can be mined because of physical, economic, energy or legal constraints.
 
Unfortunately, most of it is wasted. Only 20 percent of the phosphorus in phosphate rock reaches the food consumed globally. Thirty to 40 percent is lost during mining and processing; 50 percent is wasted in the food chain between farm and fork; and only half of all manure is recycled back into farmland around the world.
 
Most of the wasted product enters rivers, lakes and oceans through agricultural or manure runoff, from phosphates in detergent and soda dumped down drains, causing eutrophication. In this serious form of water pollution, algae bloom, die, consume oxygen and create a “dead zone” where nothing can live. Over 400 coastal dead zones at the mouths of rivers exist and are expanding at the rate of 10 percent per decade.
 
The keys to making phosphorus resources more sustainable are to:
 
· Improve the efficiency of mining
· Integrate livestock and crop production; in other words, use the manure as fertilizer
· Educate the public concerning fertilizer application
· Prevent soil erosion and agricultural runoff by promoting no-till farming, terracing, contour tilling and the use of windbreaks
· A plant based diet
· Reduce food waste from farm to fork
· Recover phosphorus from human waste
 
Do you understand why the Foskor mine at Phalaborwa is not just an unsightly hole in the earth, as some anti-mining critics might say? Here a life-saving element is brought from the depths of the earth for the survival of future generations.
 
Foskor, one of the world's largest producers of phosphate and phosphoric acid, was founded by the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) in 1951 to produce phosphates for South Africa​’s agriculture, and is the only vertically integrated producer of phosphate ore, phosphoric acid and granular fertiliser in South Africa.
 
The Group mainly mines phosphate rock (the required raw material), producing phosphoric acid and phosphate-based fertilisers. From the mine In Phalaborwa, phosphate rock is railed to the production facility in Richards Bay, KwaZulu-Natal. Foskor is the leading supplier of granular fertilisers. Phosphates, crucial for agricultural fertilizer, are formed by phosphorus combined with other elements.  
 
Without phosphorus, plant growth is retarded and the plant is spindly with stunted roots. Also apparent are the dull greyish-green leaves, red pigment in leaf bases and dying leaves. Phosphorus deficiency is difficult to diagnose and by the time it is recognised, it may be too late. If plants are starved of phosphorus as seedlings they may not recover when phosphorus is applied later.
 
Products made from phosphoric acid include catalysts, rust proofing materials, chemical reagents, latex, dental cements, tooth whiteners, toothpaste, disinfectants, food supplements, carbonated beverages, waxes, polishes and animal feeds.
 
The opencast mine at Phalaborwa has the capacity to yield 2.6 million tons of phosphate rock concentrate per year by processing 35 million tons of ore. Once crushed, milled, concentrated and dried, most of it is railed to Foskor’s processing plant in Richards Bay, 800 km away on the country’s east coast. 

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