Going Back To An Old Idea To Find Phosphorus

Jan 27, 2019


Credit Paul Mocan / unsplash

Phosphorus celebrates its 350th birthday this year. Well, the element has been along for far longer than that. But it was discovered 350 years ago by an alchemist searching for the elixir of life. 


Phosphorus didn’t turn out to be that elixir, but it is essential for life, and it has become a critical part of the fertilizers that fuel modern agriculture. And here’s the twist: we are running out of phosphorous.

Petr Kilian, Senior Lecturer, Chemistry, University of St Andrews spoke with Heather. He’s written about the past and future of phosphorous for TheConversation.com.

Seventy percent of the world’s phosphorus comes from Morocco, Kilian said. And there are some predictions that in about 30 or 40 years the demand will outstrip production. He does urge that we should take that number with a grain of salt, and note that the statistic comes from current prices and current uses.

Kilian doesn’t believe that there will be a huge shortage or a crisis, and it turns out that there are some solutions in the works. For instance, there’s a company in Canada that’s currently working to recover phosphorus from wastewater.    

“It’s going on the right direction,” he said. 


Web content created by Liz Lerner.