June 8, 2022
For the farmers who produce America’s food, phosphate is essential. After all, phosphate provides a quarter of the nutrients plants need to flourish. The process of producing phosphate, however, can be confusing to those outside the industry. What is the relationship between phosphate and phosphogypsum — also known as “PG”? And why do phosphate producers need to use gypstacks? Read on to find out how all these elements are connected — and why it matters.
What is a gypstack?
Simply put, a gypstack is a storage unit — the highly specialized and regulated type. Shaped like a flattened pyramid, a gypstack stores phosphogypsum (PG), a normal byproduct of phosphate manufacturing.
Why does PG need to be stored in gypstacks? Thirty year old federal regulations require it. Gypstacks have to meet high standards and pass daily inspections to ensure the PG stored meets federal requirements for storage. Watch this video to learn more: https://phosphateinnovation.com/videos/essential/
Where are gypstacks located?
Florida has 25 gypstacks, located in Polk County, Manatee County, Hillsborough County and Hamilton County. Most of these are no longer in active use, however, with only four gypstacks still receiving new deliveries of phosphogypsum. In the communities where gypstacks are located, residents are involved in the permitting process. Phosphate manufacturing has been a key part of Florida’s economy for many decades and directly benefits many Florida communities.
Are gypstacks radioactive?
Almost everything we come in contact with in daily life — from granite countertops to building materials — contain low amounts of naturally occurring radioactive materials, also known as “NORM”. PG stored in gypstacks contain some NORM, too. The amount of NORM in PG is low — well below the EPA risk threshold — and is considered safe even for those working with or around it daily.
Can gypstacks be reduced in size?
That’s the goal! While current uses are limited to research and agriculture, PG can be repcycled for a variety of beneficial uses. When we stop stacking phosphogypsum, and start recycling it, the size of gypstacks can be reduced over time. Studies have found that PG is safe to use in a number of applications. In fact, more than 55 different uses for PG — from use in road base to reforestation and building materials — have been discovered so far. aMore than 20 countries already productively use phosphogypsum and if they can do it, so can the United States.
How will innovation change gypstacks in the future?
With 28 million tons of PG produced in the U.S. each year, recycling and reuse of this material represents an important opportunity for sustainability. Innovation is key to finding ways to repurpose PG effectively so that more of it can be put to productive use and less stored indefinitely in gypstacks.
Repurposing PG for productive uses can provide Florida with essential building materials for its roads, agricultural nutrients for its crops, and new employment opportunities for its people. Today, the Phosphate Innovation Initiative promotes research to find new uses and applications for PG, ensuring a more sustainable future.