Knowledge Base

About Phosphate


Phosphate is an Essential Mineral

“The phosphorus content of our land, following generations of cultivation, has greatly diminished. It needs replenishing. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of phosphorus not only to agriculture and soil conservation but also the physical health and economic security of the people of the nation. Many of our soil deposits are deficient in phosphorus, thus causing low yield and poor quality of crops and pastures…” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt; message to the United States Congress in 1938

About Phosphate

Phosphorus (“P”) is one of three essential elements in fertilizer production. The other two elements are Potassium (commonly referred to as “potash” when in potassium chloride form) (“K”), and nitrogen (“N”). Phosphorus plays a crucial role in photosynthesis, and is instrumental in growth and energy supply in living organisms, especially plant life. The main source of phosphorous is phosphate rock.

Source: Yara, Macquarie Research, January 2010

Source: Yara, Macquarie Research, January 2010

Approximately 161 million tonnes of phosphatic rock are mined annually, with approximately 139 million tonnes (86%) being used for fertilizer production. Mined phosphate generally needs to be upgraded (beneficiated), and then converted into fertilizers. The compound phosphorus pentoxide (P2O5) is used as a quality metric, as it measures the concentration of phosphate in rock deposits as well as in commercial phosphate products. The phosphate ore (commonly 10-20% P2O5) is commonly upgraded to phosphate rock concentrate (approximately 30% P2O5) by conventional flotation. Other specifications of the upgraded phosphate rock include reasonable calcium carbonate (approximately 5%) and less than 4% combined iron and aluminium oxides.

These phosphatic rocks are converted to phosphoric acid, which is the compound used in fertilizer manufacturing. Other uses of phosphate include being used in the detergent and food industries amongst others.

Source: British Sulphur Consultants (CRU Group), 2010

Source: British Sulphur Consultants (CRU Group), 2010

Phosphate in Nature

Phosphate bearing rock deposits occur in many regions of the world and are hosted by a number of different rock types and settings. The most important one being sedimentary, associated with upwelling zones adjacent to basin margins. Here upwelling colder phosphate rich waters mix with warmer surface waters with resultant precipitation of phosphate as francolite, a mixture of apatite and fibrous apatite.

Significant occurrences of this style include the Tertiary Lee Creek deposit in South Carolina in the United States, and the Upper Cretaceous Benguerir deposit in Morocco. Australian examples include a number of occurrences around the margin of the Georgina Basin in Central Australia, including Incitec Pivot’s operating Phosphate Hill Mine, located near Mt Isa in western Queensland.

The second major type of deposit is located with the supergene alteration of igneous carbonatitic intrusions – this is a major type in Brazil, and includes the Tapira, Araxa and Cataloa deposits.

Main Phosphate Products

H3PO4 Phosphoric acid, which is generally the intermediate product between phosphate rock and fertilizer products, and is produced by treating the phosphate rock with sulphuric acid
6CaSO4 + 3Ca(H2PO4)2 Single superphosphate (“SSP”), is produced by treating phosphate rock with sulphuric acid, and is used as fertilizer
Ca(H2PO4)2 Triple superphosphate (“TSP”), is a more concentrated form of superphosphate, produced by treating phosphate rock with phosphoric acid
NH4H2PO4 Monoammonium phosphate (“MAP”), produced by the reaction of phosphoric acid and ammonia, and with the main use being in fertilizer blending
(NH4)2HPO4 Diammonium phosphate (“DAP”), produced by the reaction of phosphoric acid and ammonia, with the main use being in fertilizer blending, but also used in winemaking and in the purification of sugar

Fertiliser production flow (Source: Fosfertil 2009 Annual Report)

Phosphate Rock Production and Consumption

There are few phosphate producers (12 countries) and many consumers (approximately 150 countries; with Brazil accounting for 80% of Latin America consumption.)

Brazil was the third largest consumer of phosphate, but only produced a third of its requirement domestically and importing the rest.

Phosphate Consumption & Production

Source: IFA, 2014

The Need For Phosphate

Phosphorus fulfills many vital functions in a wide variety of processes in plants, animals and humans.

If the world’s farmers stopped growing crops today, there would only be enough grain inventories to feed the world’s population for slightly less than two months. As a result, 86% of globally produced phosphate is applied as a fertilizer to help feed the world’s growing population.

Benefits of phosphate fertilizers include:

  • Slows growth of crop diseases
  • Maintains cell resilience
  • Reduces water loss
  • Assists in photosynthesis by activating more than 50 enzymes
  • Builds cellulose

Phosphates have no commercial substitute as a phosphorus fertilizer source.

Brazil’s Agricultural Sector

Quick Facts:

World’s fastest growth growing fertilizer market

  • 4th largest consumer of fertilizer but account for only 4% of global fertilizer production
  • In 2014, Brazil accounted for 11% (4.6 Mt) of the world’s P2O5 consumption and is growing
  • Brazil is a net importer of phosphate (~65% of need)

Brazil is a Global Agricultural Powerhouse

  • Agricultural exports greater than US$175 billion per year
  • 27% of global meat export market
  • Brazil will export more meat than U.S.A., Canada, Australia and Argentina in 2016
  • Arable land increasing by 4.5% per year
  • World leader in sugar and ethanol production from sugar
  • Soybean, rice and corn are all strategic crops
  • Brazil soils are phosphate deficient, while the crops grown require phosphate nutrients

The usage of fertilizer was the biggest factor in the increase of grain yields in Brazil using the same cultivated area.

Phosphate product imports to Brazil come from a number of countries including Morocco, the FSU, China, USA, Tunisia and Israel.