Phosphate is a naturally occurring compound of the element phosphorus; an element found in rocks, soils and organic material. The name phosphorus comes from the Greek word phosphoros "Bringer of light". When it was first isolated chemically in 1669 it was seen to emit a faint glow upon exposure to oxygen.
Phosphorous is an essential element for plant and animal nutrition and is used extensively in fertilizer and other chemicals. In animals, phosphate is vital for the proper development of teeth and bones. Modern agriculture is heavily reliant on phosphate fertilisers to maximise crop yields. As a recent article commented: "Without plentiful supplies, the wheels will come off modern agriculture..."
There are no substitutes for phosphate and recycling the compound is simply not practical. Farmers could maintain phosphate levels in soil if they have access to manure, but many farmers have no access to the amount of livestock needed.
Most of the world's supply of phosphate comes from naturally occurring sedimentary rocks formed on the sea floor of ancient and current day seas usually in very shallow, near shore marine or low energy environments. The phosphate occurs as calcium phosphate, known as Phosphorite. The concentration of phosphate in the sedimentary rock is typically reported as a percentage of phosphorus pentoxide (P2O5).
In phosphate-rich marine sedimentary rocks, the phosphorus was deposited in part by organisms and sometimes by natural chemical reaction. The phosphorus-rich sediments are usually interbedded with other sedimentary such as limestone or diatomite (diatomite also has industrial uses in cement and filters). Phosphate also occurs in some igneous rocks but CROPS is exploring exclusively for sedimentary phosphate deposits which are far more plentiful.
Nearly 70% of world reserves are located in just one country: Morocco and the disputed territory it is occupying in the western Sahara.
The bulk of global phosphate rock production is used to manufacture modern, water-soluble fertilizers such as DAP and MAP. The major fertilizer manufacturers first make phosphoric acid, and this is then reacted or blended with some combination of ammonia, urea and potash to produce NPK blends (nitrogen-phosphorous-potassium). Some phosphate rock, generally rocks that are highly reactive in acid soils, are used as direct application phosphate rocks (DAPRs), and simply crushed before use as fertilizer.
Phosphate rock from the Sechura region of northern Peru (known as Sechura Phosphate Rock or SPR), where our Bayovar12 project is located, is one of the most reactive rocks in the world, with total phosphate yields under certain soil conditions as good as some manufactured fertilizers. This exceptional reactivity makes it ideally suited as a lower-cost alternative fertilizer for farmers growing crops on acidic soils. This same reactivity also makes SPR a good feed for phosphoric acid plants, and close to 4 million tonnes a year is already being exported from the region for acid manufacturing.