Phosphorous: Where Morocco is OPEC

A wastewater Treatment Plant in Eagan, Minn.

In a new series called “Elementary Business,” the BBC’s Justin Rowlatt takes a new look at the economy -- using a microscope. He’s tracking the chemical elements that play an important role in the global economy, starting with phosphorous.

Phosphorous is in everything -- DNA, plant life, bacteria.  The best known use of phosphorous is probably as a fertilizer. It’s an essential component of modern farming and helps increase the amount of crops a farmer can get from any one field.

And while phosphorous is everywhere, almost all the mineable phosphorous is in…Morocco.

“This is bigger than OPEC,” says Rowlatt “Morocco has a stranglehold on the world’s phosphorous market.”

Phosphorous is such an important part of agriculture today that an increase in the price of phosphorous would lead to higher food prices.

Rowlatt says there are attempts to “recover” phosphorous -- including those at a sewage plant in Slough, in the UK. The folks at that plant believe they could one day extract about 20 percent of the UK’s phosphorous needs from sewage.

About the author

Justin Rowlatt is the host of Business Daily from the BBC World Service
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I have to point out a huge mistake in this report. In addition to Morocco, there is a large phosphate mining industry right here in the United States. Central and Northern Florida have very large deposits of Phosphate that have been mined for over 50 years. Companies like PCS Phosphate, Mosaic Company, and CF Industries have large facilities in this region. Please give credit where credit is due. Morocco does NOT have a monopoly in Phosphate.

This story fails to note that much of the world's phosphate reserve is not simply "in Morocco", but in fiercely contested territory: the Western Sahara. Morocco claims (and occupies much of) the territory, but the UN and many others question this. In other words, the story misses something fairly big.

Well Kai ... I'm not a Brit, but Justin is right. The American misspelling was created by a marketing guy at Alcola who thought his mispronunciation would sell better. Look at your periodic table of elements, and you can easily see that "ium" is the standard ending for elements.

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