Phosphorous Production – 20th Century
- By the 1920’s the process technology for the manufacture of phosphorous, wet acid using sulfuric acid, and furnace acid derived from burning phosphorous in an electric furnace, began to move forward. Over the next 40 years these technologies were developed in a state very close to that still in existence today.
- From the earliest days, most phosphorous plants had been established where good-quality rock and cheap power (usually hydroelectricity and cheap coal) coincided.
- Beginning in the 1970’s, the relative cost of the two processes, sulfur for the wet acid process, and electricity for furnace acid began to favor the wet acid process. When coupled with the large volumes of lower quality wet phosphoric acid used for phosphate fertilizers and the relatively smaller volumes of high quality furnace acid required for industrial and food products, most of the furnace phosphoric plants in Europe and the United States began to shut down in the 1990’s.
- Today there is only one furnace acid plant operating in the United States (in Idaho) and one furnace acid plant operating in Kazakhstan. China has many phosphorous furnaces ranging in size from small plants with simple designs and little environmental protection to at least one large unit.
Ref: R. Gilmour – Phosphoric Acid, Purification, Uses, Technology & Economics (Boca Raton, FL, CRC Press, 2014)
Phosphorous and the Food Chain
- Phosphorus enters the organic food chain from the soil through the roots of plants along with nitrogen, potassium and a number of other nutrients they need to thrive.
- Fertilizer is added to nutrient-deficient soil to replenish these vital elements.
- Deficiencies in available phosphorous in soils are a major cause of limited crop production.
- When phosphate fertilizers are added to soils deficient in the available form of this element, increased crop and pasture yields ordinarily follow.
- Modern farming techniques rapidly deplete natural nutrients, like phosphates, from soils; these nutrients must be replaced by fertilization for crop yields to be maintained.
- Animals get phosphate from their food. De-fluorinated phosphate is used in animal feed supplements to support animal growth, fertility, and bone development