Without phosphorus, plants and animals couldn't function, so I find it troubling to read that production of the element is projected to peak in 2035, and that we are already experiencing market fluctuations, including a price spike in 2008 to almost $450 a ton. It's also one of the nutrients blamed for water pollution, algal blooms and dead zones in lakes and ponds.
A new paper by Dana Cornell of Linköping University examines the coming phosphorus shortage in great detail. Among the most salient points:
90% of all mined phosphorus comes from five countries, including China, the U.S. and the politically-unstable Western Sahara.
The U.S. is already importing African phosphorus.
For every ton of phosphate mined, five tons of radioactive waste is produced.
Only 20% of mined phosphate reaches our fork.
Biofuels will require phosphorus.
Although Africa has huge deposits, 75% of its agricultural soil remains under-fertilized.