No-one can live without phosphorus. Not we humans, nor animals, nor plants. Nobody on earth. Phosphorus is an essential raw material and unlike, for example, oil, there is no substitute. Phosphorus is a coveted, but finite resource. Our entire food supply depends on it. And: The deposits of mineral phosphorus on earth are not only limited, they are also very unevenly distributed . A few countries already dominate the world market. Their power will grow in the coming years.
Shining a light
These are not our words, but the words of ‘Phosphorama’ – a German reporting project focusing on the vital role and associated challenges of phosphorus. Its mission: to explore every nuance of phosphorus supply, production, recycling, and sustainability. And we were honoured that Phosphorama journalist Kerstin Hoppenhaus and photographer Sibylle Grunze came to visit our site at Storeknuten, Helleland in southern Norway recently, interview our experts (me, included) – and wrote an article.
It’s in Helleland that we are exploring phosphorus deposits – an EU Critical Raw Material, used in fertilisers across the world, and increasingly in lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries for electric vehicles
The Phosphorama article explains that phosphorus is irreplaceable as a fertiliser in agriculture – and therefore food production. Europe so far has been almost completely dependent on imports from few countries.
As Kerstin Hoppenhaus writes, “For decades, the focus of the Norwegian economy has been on the fossil treasures under the sea. The events under the Storeknuten, on the other hand, were of academic interest at best. But now it is becoming apparent that this history of the earth could be economically and strategically relevant for all of Europe.”
Round the clock
It does feel like many eyes are on us at Norge Mining right now, as we continue to examine the core samples our drill team works round the clock collecting from deep under the ground. The article sums up our situation well: “Norge Mining has had more than 150 exploratory drillings carried out in the region in recent years, each a few hundred meters deep in the rock, one even more than two thousand meters deep. Many were on roads and paths, others off-road, so the drilling rig had to be flown in by helicopter. The drilling teams come from all over the world. They work two shifts during the day in the summer and around the clock in the winter so that the drill bits don’t freeze.”
During their visit, the journalists met Henrik Schiellerup, Director of Resources & Environment at the Norwegian Geological Survey (NGU), who knows everything there is to know about Norway’s valuable rocks. You can read more here about Henrik’s thoughts on Norway’s Critical Raw Materials and the country’s potential future supply role. As he once told us, ‘Europe hardly produces any raw materials, but we are voracious consumers.’
Critical Raw Materials
This is perhaps truer of phosphorus, than the other in demand CRMs we are investigating. What’s also true is that to source minerals and metals needed for Net Zero and our green transition, raw materials need to be mined. Several scientific based future demand scenarios show that even though recycling will increase, there will be a need to mine new materials for several decades. The journalists therefore spoke to the local community about their thoughts regarding possible future mines in southwest Norway.
That’s where my role comes in as Community Liaison Officer; it’s my responsibility to have constant communication with people here. As I told Kerstin Hoppenhaus: “We have to speak clearly and openly with them. Because without the consent of the people in the area, the whole project cannot succeed.”
Phosphorama also rightly highlights the double-edged sword of phosphorus. Until now, it’s attracted attention because of its abundance than its scarcity – as a water pollutant from detergents and fertilisers. As the article describes: ‘Both scenarios, deficiency as well as excess, make it clear how important sustainable phosphorus management is for our future.’
We will follow the Phosphorama project with great interest – and we will be making our own important announcements regarding our phosphorus deposits early in the new year, as world demand for this ‘white gold’ grows more stronger by the day.