One of those trace minerals that mother talked about is phosphate, and ironically my father worked for a brief time as a chemist for a phosphate mine near Bartow, Florida in the 1940's. Phosphate is a disappearing resource, and as the song goes, "we've got trouble right here in River City".
As the SNB phosphate recovery web site tells us:
The demand for phosphate is increasing. Global stocks are finite. According to experts all the phosphate in the world will have been used within the foreseeable future. The majority of estimates are a maximum of 100 years, and the consequences will be enormous, especially for food production. A shortage of phosphate will result in large-scale famine and political turmoil. What makes the problem serious is that there are no alternatives for phosphate.SNB adds:
Our bodies need phosphor and extract it from our food. Plants also need phosphor to live. Under normal circumstances plants extract phosphor from the soil, but intensive farming is rapidly exhausting this phosphate. This is why phosphate is added to the soil in the form of artificial fertiliser in order to compensate for the shortage and maintain our food production. In the Netherlands and the majority of countries in Europe we have done this to such a great degree that the soil currently contains more than sufficient phosphate. Nevertheless, this quantity will also become depleted if we do not continue to supplement it. In other parts of the world, such as Africa, artificial fertiliser is far less readily available and the soil is poorer. The end of the stocks is on the horizon. The problem is even more acute due to the fact that demand for phosphate is increasing. This is because of the growing world population, increasing consumption of meat and the cultivation of energy crops.The SNB account continues:
Besides the fact that we extract phosphate from our food, we also use phosphate in the pharmaceuticals sector and industrial and household cleaning. However, consumption for the purpose of food production is by far the most important. Approximately 80% of all phosphate is used for this purpose.
Australian research conducted by Dana Cordell shows that approximately 14.9 million tons of phosphate ore is mined worldwide. Of this, 3.5 million tons of phosphate finds its way into our food. Eventually, three million tons of phosphates are released through human waste. If we recover this 3 million tons of phosphate we will have covered 20% of our worldwide phosphate requirement. The Netherlands uses relatively little artificial fertiliser because we produce a relatively large quantity of animal manure. This means that the percentage in the Netherlands is even 50%.There you have the whole story. We need phosphate. Not a lot, but life requires phosphate. There is not a whole lot of it compared to the human appetite for it. We are using it up. If we don't do something different, it will be gone. We live in a way that makes phosphate a necessity. We cannot live without it. The phosphate supply is an issue that is not quite as urgent as CO2/AGW but serious enough to draw the attention of this post and others as well. We need to start thinking and talking about solutions. Solving the phosphate problem is not an option.
Approximately 11.4 million tons is lost worldwide. This is due to over-fertilisation. If too much phosphate is released onto the soil a large amount is lost due to erosion and precipitation. It is also essential that a solution is also developed for this. However, in this web site we concentrate on the recovery of phosphate from waste water. Phosphates can be recovered at several points in the waste chain: