November 12, 2021
Phosphate is an essential nutrient required for all life. When farmers use it to grow crops, it helps keep your belly full. When you eat those crops, or any number of vitamin supplements that count phosphate as an ingredient, it helps keep your body strong. Used as an ingredient in toothpaste, phosphate also helps clean your teeth!
Essentially — it’s essential.
Before we can use phosphate, we’ve got to make it. A normal byproduct of phosphate manufacturing is called phosphogypsum, or “PG”.
For every ton of phosphate produced, five tons of PG is made. It’s stored in manmade structures called “gypstacks,” which look like flattened pyramids, with a layered style of construction. Why? Because regulations from the 1980’s required it. In Florida, stacks are carefully overseen by regulators and must adhere to the strictest construction and inspection standards, ensuring the stacks are safe. A network of high-tech monitoring and human oversight gathers data and ensures a stack’s structural integrity.
Florida is estimated to have about a billion tons of PG stored in gypstacks. That’s a billion tons of potential, waiting to be put to beneficial use!
Phosphogypsum, like natural gypsum, is a normal material that is often used in other countries to make things like wallboard. Globally, researchers have discovered fifty-five (55) innovative ways to use PG — so far. Their research indicates that there are many environmentally safe alternatives to storing PG in gypstacks such as using it as a road base material, as a soil additive to help grow crops and even as landfill cover.
A potential source for materials to power critical technologies, PG contains rare earth elements (REE) that we need for renewable energy technologies, electric vehicles, critical defense technologies and for smartphones. Using phosphogypsum that is readily available can provide an important domestic source of REE and lessen our reliance on foreign sources.
When we harness innovation to use PG, we keep it out of gypstacks, reducing the need to expand or build new ones in the future. Smaller gypstacks mean more land for conservation and wildlife habitat. Innovative use of PG will result in smaller, less visible stacks.
Innovative use is a key part of achieving a sustainable economy. Sustainability is achieved when you take a material that is a byproduct of one manufacturing process and use it as a raw material for another product. It reduces waste and is good for the environment because producers will be less reliant on obtaining new materials from the Earth. In the future, innovative uses for PG could make stacking both outdated and unnecessary!
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