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Is phosphorus really a scarce resource (2018)

Köhn J., Zimmer D., Leinweber P.

International Journal of Environmental Technology and Management, 21 (5/6), 373



Phosphorus is not a physically scarce resource but more than 90% of the stock is not technically extractable today. Economic scarcity takes this and other aspects into consideration. The price spike in 2007/8 induced a scientific debate on a 'peak P' similar to the dispute on the oil peak back in the 1970s. The processing of phosphate rock to P fertilisers fed the Green Revolution and, therefore, was seen a chance to overcome the hunger on earth. Thus, the expansive use of P had serious negative impacts to the reserve stock of P. However, if and only if business sees a certain price margin as a threshold beyond P cannot be explored and marketed with benefit for agricultural use, in this particular case only P gets really a scarce resource. The peak price shock in P had almost other reasons than a real physical shortcoming in the reserve stocks. Moreover, if a certain price threshold would be exceeded and agriculture and industry still demand P, recycling technologies and better management practices are already at hand to supply enough P for sustaining food production. Additionally, a consequent recycling of P rich wastes and usage of P accumulated in soils and sediments cannot only set limits for P pricing but also revoke postulated P peak and P scarcity.