October 27, 2021
Phosphate operations began in Florida in 1883, more than 138 years ago. The Sunshine State has changed dramatically since that time. The same is true for the phosphate industry. Today, phosphate operations occur in the Central Florida area (Polk, Hillsborough, Hardee and Manatee counties) and one area in North Florida (Hamilton County).
Phosphate is an essential nutrient and part of everyday life. It’s necessary for the formation of healthy bones and teeth and even helps plants grow, which is why farmers have used phosphate to boost crop yields for centuries. Other uses for phosphate include use as a nutrient in animal feed, an additive in vitamin supplements and in everyday products like toothpaste. Before we can use phosphate, we’ve got to make it, which results in a normal byproduct called phosphogypsum.
Phosphogypsum, or “PG” for short, is a normal byproduct created during the phosphate manufacturing process. For every ton of phosphorus produced, approximately five tons of phosphogypsum is made. Right now, phosphogypsum is stored in gypstacks where trained technicians safely work with it every day. Stacking phosphogypsum is a federally mandated practice for storage. Among phosphate producers, there’s a desire to find sustainable uses for byproducts created during the manufacturing process, rather than stacking it for the foreseeable future. Scientists are developing better ways to manage byproducts like phosphogypsum in order to reduce waste, become more efficient and create a sustainable economy.
The simple answer? A lot! Alternatives to stacking phosphogypsum do exist. In the United States, phosphogypsum is already approved for certain agricultural applications and scientific research. Other countries have looked to phosphogypsum as a valuable raw material and have developed processes to beneficially use it. Globally, PG has been used to help crops grow, replant forests, as a component of building materials and by blending it with other natural resources used to build roads. In fact, phosphogypsum is being used in over 20 countries and 55 different beneficial uses have been discovered by scientists — so far!
That’s the goal. We can recycle more than just trash and science is moving us towards a “zero waste” future. The innovative potential for recycling phosphogypsum is a tremendous opportunity for the industry to reduce waste and become more efficient. For example, roads built with phosphogypsum mixed into construction materials would be the same quality as those built with conventional materials, with the added benefit of using a recycled material that is immediately available.
Let’s stop stacking phosphogypsum, and start recycling it. In the U.S., it is time to view phosphogypsum storage in gypstacks as a last resort and finally put it to sustainable use.
Check out this short video that explores how science is developing new ways to recycle phosphogypsum at www.phosphateinnovation.com/recycle-and-rebuild/.