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Sustainable P Talk
Catherine Clabby, Arizona State University (via Vimeo)
ASU Regents’ Professor James Elser gives the talk “phosphorus, food and our future” on the earth day launch of the Sustainable Phosphorus Initiative at the Arizona Science Center, 04.22.2010
(posted July 7 2010)
Entertaining and enlightening talk. About an hour long. -BA

Does Peak Phosphorus Loom?

Catherine Clabby, American Scientist
Scientists make the case that easily accessible supplies of an essential element are being depleted

Today it seems too easy to name environmental hazards with potentially global implications. Climate change, finite fossil-fuel reserves and the risk of water scarcity quickly come to mind.

Now some scientists want concern for the world’s dwindling phosphorus (P) supply tacked onto that short list.

…The Global Phosphorus Research Initiative, led by Swedish and Australian scientists, estimates that the world’s readily available phosphorus supplies will be inadequate to meet agricultural demand within 30 to 40 years. Others predict shortages sooner or later. All seem to agree that phosphorus price increases seen recently on global markets will recur, and that they will likely hit farmers in the developing world hardest.

“Our current use of phosphorus is not sustainable,” says James Elser, an Arizona State University ecologist and cofounder of the newly launched Sustainable P Initiative on that campus.

The demand for phosphorus increased sharply in the mid-20th century with the success of the Green Revolution, when plant breeders successfully produced higher-yield versions of familiar field crops. Those higher yields required larger doses of fertilizer. An estimated 17 million tons of processed phosphorus will be used on the world’s farm fields this year, with demand only expected to rise, says Mark Edwards, a business professor also active in the new Arizona State phosphorus initiative.
(July-August 2010)
Suggested by this article from Arizona State University: ASU ahead on phosphorus sustainability efforts

Scientist urges government to address ‘peak phosphate’ risk

BusinessGreen via Guardian
Expert warns that rapid rollout of anaerobic digestion plants to address looming shortage of crucial fertiliser.

Peak oil presents the world with an energy crisis once supplies start to dwindle any time from 2015. But another growing crisis is looming, with potentially devastating consequences for the world’s food supply.

Phosphorous is an essential nutrient for plant growth, along with nitrogen and potassium. It is a key component in DNA and plays an essential role in plant energy metabolism. Without it, crops would fail, causing the human food chain to collapse.

Phosphate production is predicted to peak around 2030 as the global population expands to a predicted 9.1 billion people by 2050. And unlike oil, where there are renewable energy alternatives to fossil fuels, there is no substitute for phosphorus, according to the US Geological Survey.

As imported rock phosphate becomes more expensive and may one day run out, there could be a solution much closer to home, says Professor Brian Chambers, a leading UK soil scientist.

Professor Chambers is calling on the government to respond to the threat of peak phosphate by recovering nutrients from household compost, livestock and human manure and municipal waste.
(14 July 2010)

Sustainable Phosphorus Initiative at Arizona State
Arizona State University
Current human use of the key nutrient element phosphorus (P) is unsustainable, as emerging scarcity threatens to induce widespread famine while wasteful use pollutes rivers, lakes and oceans. The ASU Sustainable Phosphorus Initiative (SPI) seeks to:

  1. Build a credible scientific consensus on the dimensions of the phosphorus sustainability challenge.

  2. Catalyze an interdisciplinary global network focused on phosphorus sustainability.
  3. Design & motivate institutional, commercial, and consumer behavior change for conservation and recycling to establish phosphorus stainability.

SPI is ASU’s timely and solution-driven response to what might be called “the biggest problem you’ve never heard of.” By closing the phosphorus cycle, countries, cities, and families will become more secure and more affluent, while living in a healthier environment free of the degrading impacts of widespread nutrient pollution.

Mon, 07/12/2010 – 17:02 — Jim Elser’s P lecture on Earth Day at the Arizona Science Center can now be seen online!
“ASU Regents’ Professor James Elser gives the talk “phosphorus, food and our future” on the earth day launch of the Sustainable Phosphorus Initiative at the Arizona Science Center, 04.22.2010 “

(July 2010)

Nitrogen and Phosphorus: The Future of Toilet Design Hangs in the Balance

Sam Kean, Slate
A diet that lacks even obscure elements like selenium will leave almost any creature on earth sick and hobbled, if not dead. Plants are made of the same basic stuff as animals but have different nutritional needs and need their elements, like nitrogen, in different forms. In fact, the amount of Element 7 available in the soil severely restricts how many plants can grow there. Carnivorous plants, like Venus flytraps, consume bugs mostly to get at their nitrogen.

Fertilizers make plants grow by delivering nitrogen (and other elements, like phosphorus) in high-octane forms. Early farmers fertilized crops with urine or dung, usually scraped from “stables, sheep pens, pigeon houses, caverns, and even peasants’ cottages—any place manure and refuse accumulated,” as one historian reports. After the Industrial Revolution, the demands of agriculture became too onerous for sheep, pigeons, and peasants to keep up, so European countries began to mine nitrogen fertilizers in South America, especially from deposits of Chile saltpeter.

… some agricultural scientists today fret that we’re eating our way into another fertilizer shortage—and with an element we can’t conjure out of thin air, phosphorus. They call the threat “peak phosphorus,” or for the initiated, peak P. (It’s a play on “peak oil,” the idea that we’ve already burned up half or more of the world’s oil supply and that we’ll use up the remainder frighteningly quickly.)
(13 July 2010)
Peak phosphorus — you read here first at Energy Bulletin!

This Slate article is the latest in a series on “Blogging the Periodic Table.”