The report “A Sustainable Global Society” summarises the views of thirty top materials chemists from five countries assembled in London to identify the scientific research required to address key global challenges, and to provide recommendations to policy makers. The report also presents an international view on how materials chemistry can contribute positively to creating a sustainable world.
One of the issues discussed is the decreasing supplies of phosphorus, a key element of fertilisers used to produce a wide range of crops.
The authors of this report state that decreasing world supplies of elemental resources is a fact and that this trend is potentially more pressing than the decreasing supply of oil. For example, phosphate reserves will be depleted in 30-100 years. Manure is a source of phosphate and phosphorus is present in soils, rivers and oceans. Excess phosphorus is also found in fertiliser run-offs. However, no viable method for recovery has been designed yet and phosphate rock remains as the most widely used resource for phosphate.
There is hope in the development of new technologies, based on fundamental understanding of how phosphate can bind to new materials and how this captured resource can be separated through membrane filtration or similar technologies.
Key factors to make this happen?
1) International cooperation in larger issues such as these, that threaten directly the world’s food supplies.
2) Support in the form of R&D investment, both public and private.
3) Give young people considering chemistry as a career reasons to stick to this decision and not choose other options because they will earn more money elsewhere.