Phosphate rock (27-35% P2O5) is the feedstock for phosphate fertilisers and phosphoric acid, with small supply as slag from the steel industry (10-20% P2O5).
The ore is processed into fertiliser using acid. Sulphuric acid produces MAP, DAP, SSP and complex fertilisers, while phosphoric acid results in TSP. Nitric acid produces slurry NP for use as a feed in complex fertilisers (see table).
In 2008, global production was 174.4m. tpa, the main producers being China (29%), the USA (18.5%), Morocco (16.7%), and Russia (6.5%).
The term potash broadly refers to potassium salts, although in commercial terms it is generally understood to mean potassium chloride (KCl) or more precisely, muriate of potash (MOP).
Potassium minerals are often mixed with other evaporite minerals including halite, anhydrite or gypsum, and epsomite.
Global potash production is estimated at 61.2m. tpa. North America is home to the worlds leading potash producers and to the most exploration projects, Canada leading the way with major production. Russia is the second major producer after Canada.
Europe has limited producers but a substantial supply. Brazil has a small potash output at present, but new projects are expected to come into production by 2016 to significantly increase the countrys capacity.
China, which has a very little domestic potash production, imports the vast majority of its consumption. Securing future supply is very high on Chinas agenda.
There are no potash producers in Africa or India but several exploration projects are underway in these regions.
Global phosphate production was about 174.4m. tpa in 2008, the main producers being China (29%), the USA (18.5%), Morocco (16.7%) and Russia (6.5%).
The main phosphate producers are The Mosaic Co., PotashCorp. and CF Industries in the USA in addition to Office Chérifien des Phosphate (OCP) in Morocco which has a 20m. tpa capacity.
North Africa is host to significant phosphate reserves, notably in Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Western Sahara. Morocco is said to have the largest phosphate reserves in the world.
The balance in the phosphate routes may change within the next two years when Saudi Arabia is expected start new phosphate production. The Saudi Arabian Mining Co. (Maaden) will be the countrys first phosphate producer with 12m. tonnes of phosphate rock output from 2011.
With Saudi Arabia close to the markets of India and Pakistan, the two major phosphate consumers could switch to Saudi phosphate from North African sources.
Although the fertiliser mine-to-market chain has been hit hard since the end of 2008, the industry seems to be bouncing back with high demand for phosphate and, above all, potash.
In addition to North America, Asia (mainly China and India) and South America (mainly Brazil) are big consumers of fertiliser minerals. Sub-Saharan Africas appetite for phosphate and potash is also expected to grow significantly within the next decade.
As potash soared towards $1,000/tonne in 2008 it was hailed as the first mineral to smash the high bulk, low value perception of industrial minerals. When the global economy crashed in September of that year, demand for the fertiliser mineral quickly evaporated.
But potash is back to the centre of attention as shown by the BHP Billiton/Potash Corp. saga which started in August 2010. Existing potash producers remain focused on significantly expanding operations.
About 85-95% of phosphate is used for the fertilisers industry, including phosphoric acid. The remaining 5-10% is consumed for industrial uses (chemical reagent, electro polishing, catalyst); medical uses (pharmaceutical, water treatment, dental); and retail uses (soap, carbonated drinks, animal feed).
After gloomy times following to financial downturn, the mid to long-term trend is very positive for the phosphate industry and phosphate consumption is expected to grow closely in parallel to developing population and increasing wealth of emerging countries such as China and India.