Global Phosphorus Flows in the Industrial Economy From a Production Perspective

Human activity has quadrupled the mobilization of phosphorus (P), a nonrenewable resource that is not fully recycled biologically or industrially. P is accumulated in both water and solid waste due to fertilizer application and industrial, agricultural, and animal P consumption. This paper characterizes the industrial flows, which, although smaller than the agricultural and animal flows, are an important phosphorus source contributing to the pollution of surface waters. We present the quantification of the network of flows as constrained by mass balances of the global annual metabolism of phosphorus, based on global consumption for 2004, all of which eventually ends up as waste and in the soil and water systems. We find that on a yearly basis, 18.9 million metric tons (MMT) of P is produced, of which close to 75% goes to fertilizer and the rest to industrial and others uses. Phosphoric acid is the precursor for many of the intermediate and end uses of phosphate compounds described in this study and accounts for almost 80% of all P consumed. Eventually, all of the P goes to waste: 18.5 MMT ends up in the soil as solid waste, and 1.32 MMT is emissions to air and water. Besides quantifying P flows through our economy, we also consider some possible measures that could be taken to increase the degree of recovery and optimization of this resource and others that are closely related, such as the recovery of sulfur from gypsum and wastewater (sludge), and fluorine from wet phosphoric acid production.