Innovation potential along the phosphorus supply chain: A micro and macro perspective on the mining phase


Phosphorus is unique, given its characteristic of being essential for all life on Earth. The element is non-substitutable and finite in the form of highly concentrated phosphate-rock deposits. Thus, humankind should strive to utilize this resource in the most-efficient and sustainable manner. Losses, as well as overlooked opportunities, can be found all along the supply chain in various forms and to distinct extents. Avoiding these by closing the loops all along the supply chain is a key approach for keeping phosphorus flows available for economic use while reducing negative environmental impacts such as eutrophication. Changes to the current, mostly linear approach require multidimensional innovations that address products, processes, structures, and decision-makers along the supply chain as well as societal stakeholders.

Our work focuses on the mining phase, covering extraction and beneficiation, whereby we discuss innovation potential in the contexts of i) improving P2O5 recovery, ii) utilizing waste, and iii) recovering by-products within the boundaries of sustainable development as generalized strategies on the macro level. Furthermore, we show that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to overcome current and future challenges within phosphate-rock mining, as the geological composition and processing of ores differs fundamentally among global deposits. Therefore, we perform, based on previously unpublished primary data, an economic breakdown of production-cost structures covering 85 active phosphate-rock mines and show significant differences between the two main deposit types (i.e., igneous and sedimentary), underground and open-pit mining as well as within each type.


B. Geissler, M. C. Mewac, J. Matschullat, G. Steiner, Innovation potential along the phosphorus supply chain: A micro and macro perspective on the mining phase, Science of The Total Environment Vol. 714 (2020) 136701