IFDC Report Indicates Adequate Phosphorus Resources Available to Meet Global Food Demands


Panel participants during the release of the IFDC report “World Phosphate Reserves and Resources” included (from left to right) Steven J. Van Kauwenbergh, principal scientist and leader of IFDC’s Phosphate Research and Resources Initiative; Dr. Terry Roberts, president of the International Plant Nutrition Institute; M. Ann Tutwiler, coordinator for the Global Food Security Initiative, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Dr. Amit Roy, IFDC president and CEO; and Johanna Nesseth Tuttle, director of the Global Food Security Project and vice president for Strategic Planning, Center for Strategic and International Studies.

September 22, 2010 – Washington, D.C., and Muscle Shoals, Ala. – “World Phosphate Rock Reserves and Resources,” an IFDC study released today, estimates that global resources of phosphate rock suitable to produce phosphate rock concentrate, phosphoric acid, phosphate fertilizers and other phosphate-based products will be available for several hundred years. The report, prepared by Steven J. Van Kauwenbergh, a principal scientist and leader of IFDC’s Phosphate Research and Resources Initiative, contains specific information regarding how much phosphate rock remains in deposits located around the world.

There has been intense speculation for a number of years that world phosphate reserves are dwindling in amount and quality. Numerous sources even suggest that phosphate rock production will “peak” in 2033-2034 and then decrease as reserves are depleted. Based on Van Kauwenbergh’s research, the IFDC study reaches a different conclusion.

Why is this important? Phosphate rock is the primary source for phosphorus – one of three elements critical to plant growth (along with nitrogen and potassium). Phosphate rock is a non-renewable resource – therefore, dire consequences for world agricultural production and food security would be linked to “peak phosphate.” Based on the IFDC research, however, there is no indication that phosphate production will peak in the next 20-25 years or even within the next century. Assuming current rates of use, world phosphate rock reserves and resources should be available for the foreseeable future.

Over 160 million metric tons of phosphate rock concentrate were produced in 2008, the most since 1989. That amount can be used as a benchmark for previous estimates and future production. Phosphate rock reserves are defined as the amount that can be produced with current technology at current prices and current costs. Phosphate rock resources are defined as naturally occurring phosphate material in such a form or amount that economic extraction of product is currently or potentially feasible. According to IFDC research, previous estimates of global phosphate rock reserves ranged from 15 billion (1 x 109 = 1 U.S. billion) metric tons to over one trillion (1012 = 1 U.S. trillion) metric tons. Previous estimates of global phosphate rock resources ranged from 91 billion metric tons to over one trillion metric tons.

Using a variety of available sources, Van Kauwenbergh assessed the reserves of the key phosphate-producing countries. The IFDC estimate of worldwide reserves is approximately 60 billion metric tons of concentrate. In addition, the IFDC estimate of global phosphate rock resources is approximately 290 billion metric tons, which includes the unprocessed ore of the reserve estimates.

Reserves are not established on an infinite planning horizon; rather, planning is based on the amount of concentrate needed for a varying number of years. Therefore, the amount of phosphate rock contained in the world reserves is a dynamic figure, not a static one. As the cost of phosphate rock increases (based on demand and/or as lower-cost phosphate rock deposits are mined out), producers will have to move more material, process lower grade ores, open new mines, employ increasingly expensive technology and use additional raw materials and processing media (such as water) to produce ore concentrates. When the phosphate concentrate price increases, marginal deposits may become economically viable. In addition, alternative mining methods will be developed and new deposits will be opened (some in challenging environments). For example, underground mining methods may become economically viable in some locations if the market price of phosphate rock is high enough.

This IFDC study is a preliminary estimate of world reserves and resources, based on the most accurate information generally available. The IFDC estimate of phosphate rock deposits does not include estimates from every country or known phosphate rock deposit in the world. Many countries are rather incompletely explored, and there are many small phosphate deposits around the world that were not included in the study.

A collaborative effort by phosphate rock producers, government agencies, international organizations, academia and other stakeholders is required to make a substantially more detailed and accurate estimate of world phosphate rock reserves and resources. IFDC recommends that an international, multi-disciplinary network be established to regularly update a new and improved database of global phosphate deposits.

There is no substitute for phosphorus in agriculture, or indeed in life. Phosphate rock is a finite resource – at some point in time the earth’s supply may be exhausted. There should be a global effort to develop more effective phosphate rock mining and processing technologies and to utilize phosphate fertilizer, other phosphate-based products and phosphate-containing waste as efficiently as possible, while keeping unused nutrients out of watersheds and the oceans.

IFDC is conducting research to increase the efficiency of both phosphate and nitrogen fertilizers. Most phosphate fertilizers were developed for use in temperate climates, and their efficiency is lessened in sub-tropical and tropical climates. IFDC is seeking methods to apply phosphate rock to crops directly or with minimal processing. This would increase the amount of phosphate the crop would absorb, while decreasing the amount of phosphate rock lost in processing and the amount of nutrients lost to the environment.


Further details of the study can be found on the IFDC website at http://www.ifdc.org. Copies of “World Phosphate Rock Reserves and Resources” are available to the media at no cost or can be ordered from our website (IFDC Technical Bulletin 75). If you are a member of the media and would like a digital copy of this report, contact IFDC using the information below.

IFDC Contacts:
Courtney Greene
+1 256-381-6600 ext. 357

“World Phosphate Rock Reserves and Resources”

Steven J. Van Kauwenbergh, Principal Scientist, IFDC

Study Highlights

  • Phosphate rock is the primary source of phosphorus – one of three essential plant nutrients. Phosphate concentrate of suitable grade and chemical quality is used to produce phosphoric acid, the basis of many fertilizer and non-fertilizer products.
  • The search for phosphate rock deposits became a global effort in the 20th century. Development of deposits further intensified in the 1950s and 1960s as use increased.
  • World production peaked in 1987-1988 and in 2008 at over 160 million metric tons (mmt).
  • The amount of remaining phosphate rock reserves and resources worldwide has been an issue of speculation over the last 20 years. It has been hypothesized that phosphate rock production will “peak” in 2033-2034 with production unavoidably decreasing as the reserves are depleted. Dire consequences for world agricultural production and food security are linked to “peak phosphate.” However, there is no indication that a “peak phosphorus” event will occur in 20-25 years.
  • This study reviewed phosphate rock reserve/resource literature, past world reserve and resource estimates and methodologies used to perform reserve and resource estimates.
  • The study is not a comprehensive analysis; it focuses on the countries listed by the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in the Mineral Commodity Summaries series.
  • There is a great deal of published data available on phosphate rock deposits prior to 1990. Since then, there is limited detailed information on world phosphate rock reserves and resources available in conventional scientific literature. Useful information was located on websites, in trade magazines, papers presented at conferences and in papers or reports that have limited distribution and are generally not catalogued on commercial literature databases.
  • Previous estimates of phosphate rock reserves range from 15,000 mmt to over 1,000,000 mmt; estimates of phosphate rock resources range from about 91,000 mmt to over 1,000,000 mmt.
  • The IFDC estimate of global phosphate rock reserves is approximately 60,000 mmt of concentrate, while the IFDC estimate of global resources is approximately 290,000 mmt. (This figure includes unprocessed ore of the reserve estimate.) If estimates of potential resources are included, the total resources may be about 460,000 mmt. Unexplored or under-analyzed nations that might further add to these numbers were not included.
  • Assuming current rates of production, IFDC estimates that there are sufficient phosphate rock concentrate reserves to produce fertilizer for the next 300-400 years.

Download Terry Reynolds’ Presentation

Download Dr. Amit Roy’s Presentation

Download M. Ann Tutwiler’s Presentation

Download Steven Van Kauwenbergh’s Presentation

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