Phosphorus: a non-renewable resource explained to new generations – Fertilizers

He phosphorus it is an essential element for all life forms and for plants it is one macronutrients the most important. It is used in agriculture in the form of fertilizer and is extracted from phosphate rock mines. These are found in some countries around the world such as Morocco I North Africa, China, United States I Russia.

Phosphorus is a non-renewable resource and the reserves of these mines are depleted. He maximum extraction peak he loved himself around 2033.

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The problem of phosphorus extraction

Although there is a continuing demand for phosphorus in agriculture, the cultivated land is too rich in it, so much so that this can create pollution phenomena (eutrophication) or losses for erosive phenomena and soil tillage practices.

If phosphorus is a non-renewable resource, how can its sustainability be guaranteed in the near future? At this point, it becomes crucial learn to manage at best the resources of the planet in the process of exhaustion by the development, for example, of circular economies. To solve the problem of phosphorus extraction can be used secondary sources for the production of fertilizers obtained from recovery and since recycling nutrients: wastewater, sewage sludge, manure, animal carcasses, food waste, etc.

This is the theme of the conference May 4 a Macfrut 2022. The seminar with a name “The global challenge of phosphorus in agriculture” was sustained by Ornella Francioso of the Department of Agri – Food Sciences and Technologies of theUniversity of Bologna, Alberto Zanelli I Armida Torreggiani of the National Research Council (Cnr) – Institute of Organic Synthesis and Photoreactivity (Isof) of Bologna.

The main protagonist of the seminar was the project Rm @ Escoles 4.0funded by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (Eit)which aims at awareness campaign for recovery of critical raw materials among which, in fact, phosphorus. It is about making science education attractive to young students to encourage them to be responsible citizens capable of taking innovative actions for sustainable development.

Within the project, an activity developed in collaboration with the Fermi Scientific High School of Bologna on phosphorus recovery and its use in agriculture. Hence the idea of ​​including the same activity in the curricula of natural sciences and civic education of schools.

Educate and train the new generations

To ensure a more sustainable future it is necessary to offer through education new skills: prepare the next generation to solve the great environmental, economic and social challenges. For this reason, the European Community has invested and continues to invest in a series of projects in all schools, to train in the sustainable use of raw materials and prevent their exploitation.

As part of the Rm @ Schools 4.0 project, 24 students from the class 4C of the Liceo Fermi of Bologna between 17 and 18 years that, in collaboration with the Cnr and the University of Bologna, presented all the activities realized related with the problem of the extraction of phosphorus and his recovery and recycling.

In particular, they played laboratory experiments who predicted the recovery of the struvite from synthetic urine and then have demonstrated their fertilizing activity a hydroponic cultivation. Estruvite is a mineral made up of magnesium, ammonium and phosphate ions that is obtained from wastewater by precipitation and crystallization of phosphorus. It is one of the most promising and environmentally sustainable processes that generates a substance that can be used as a slow release fertilizer.

Among the different activities, the students of the Liceo Fermi were in charge of writing a poll which they then introduced to the high school community, including all students, parents, and teachers. A completely anonymous questionnaire that was intended to investigate the average level of knowledge and awareness about the phosphorus problem. Both young people and adults had to unravel various questions, for example: “How is phosphorus extracted?”, “What is it for?”, “Where does it matter in Europe?”.

EL Survey results stressed that the82% of respondents do not consider phosphorus as an exhaustible resource. In general, most people were unaware or unfamiliar with the subject.

We do not despair, however, that such projects should be repeated precisely to increase the lack of knowledge and to promote actions of scientific dissemination on issues of sustainable development in school and society.

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