The discovery of valuable ore in Scandinavia looks to relieve shortages of phosphorus for decades to come.
Huge phosphate deposits discovered in southwestern Norway could be large enough to supply electric vehicles, solar panels and fertiliser for at least 50 years.
The valuable ore was discovered in 2018 by Norge Mining, who revealed in May that they’d found 70 billion tonnes of the material.
Phosphate is rich in phosphorus which is a key component of many green technologies, as well as fertiliser. The find comes at a crucial time when Europe has been facing supply issues.
Phosphate shortage warning delivered by EU
In 2012, The Hague issued a report warning of upcoming phosphate shortages. Russia controls the biggest deposit of the chemical compound, but imports have been curbed since the Ukraine invasion.
Morocco, China, Iran and Syria also have large deposits of the material, but the war has still had an impact, realised through rising fertiliser costs.
Earlier this year, scientists warned of a “phosphogeddon”.
We need to be “a lot smarter in the way we use phosphorus,” Professor Phil Haygarth of Lancaster University told UK newspaper the Guardian. “If we don’t, we face a calamity.”
Bristol University’s Professor Penny Johnes put it more bluntly: “There is no life on Earth without phosphorus”.
Phosphate fertiliser has become essential to securing global food production. But its runoff has also been associated with algal blooms that threaten fish stocks and produce planet-heating methane.
Norway has enough phosphorus to power a century
These new deposits found in Scandinavia could theoretically supply global demand for batteries and solar panels for up to 50 years, Norge Mining confirmed.
Following the discovery of the rock, Jan Christian Vestre, Norway’s minister of trade and industry, said Norway had an “obligation” to develop “the world’s most sustainable mineral industry”.
The global economy gets through 45 million tonnes of phosphorus each year.
Once mined, the ore can be processed into phosphoric acid and supply a broad range of uses, including lithium-iron-phosphate batteries and animal feed.
A ‘significant’ discovery
“When you find something of that magnitude in Europe, which is larger than all the other sources we know – it is significant,” founder and deputy CEO of Norge Mining, Michael Wurmser told news website Euractiv.
“We believe the phosphorus that we can produce will be important to the West – it provides autonomy,” he continued.
However, the refining of phosphorus has historically been very carbon intensive, which is partly why there has been little production in Europe in recent years.
Norge Mining plans to use carbon capture and storage to offset the environmental impact of production, though the efficacy of these technologies is often called into question.
It wasn’t just phosphate that was discovered at the site. Large deposits of critical raw materials titanium – used frequently for joint replacements and in building aeroplanes – and vanadium – used to strengthen steel – were also present.