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Minerals 2018, 8(9), 395; https://doi.org/10.3390/min8090395

Striving Toward a Circular Economy for Phosphorus: The Role of Phosphate Rock Mining

1
Department of Knowledge and Communication Management, Danube University Krems, Dr. Karl-Dorrek-Straße 30, 3500 Krems, Austria
2
Faculty of Geosciences, University of Resources TU Bergakademie Freiberg, Geoengineering and Mining, Akademiestraße 6, 09599 Freiberg, Germany
3
Proman Management GmbH, Weingartenstrasse 92, 2214 Auersthal, Austria
4
CRU International, Chancery House, 53-64 Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1QS, UK
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 30 July 2018 / Revised: 30 August 2018 / Accepted: 5 September 2018 / Published: 8 September 2018
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Abstract

As an element, phosphorus (P) is one of a kind. While it is essential for all life on Earth, phosphorus is neither substitutable nor infinite especially in terms of highly concentrated phosphate rock deposits. Society as a whole—and key stakeholders in particular—must build on and extend the idea of a linear system that begins with exploration, continues with extraction and processing, and ends with the application of fertilizers, by applying mechanisms of circularity. The efficient and sustainable utilization of P including intra-generational and intergenerational fairness requires the recognition of its dissipative structure as an important first step. With its Manifesto for a Resource-Efficient Europe, the European Commission acknowledged the inevitability of the transition toward a regenerative Circular Economy (CE). The concept of a CE evolves around the avoidance of losses, which can be found all along the P supply chain in varying degrees of magnitude and leads to total nutrient-use efficiencies as low as 5% to 10%. This makes P a prime target for moving toward a circular economy. While common state-of-the-art work addresses mostly the loop (i.e., production, use, collection, and recycling) itself, we are discussing the current role of raw materials “feeding” the loop with respect to the mining phase. From a resilience perspective, the aim must be to keep every P atom flowing and circulating within our economy for as long as possible. Hereby, every measure needs to be considered under the principle of proportionality in terms of sustainable development. Therefore, changes to the current approach in the form of multidimensional innovation (e.g., products, processes, and structures) must be considered from various perspectives including technological, geological, and economic aspects. The economic framework conditions, in particular, determine the cut-off between valuable product and “waste”. We build our arguments on the “Phosphate Rock Mining–Innovation Nexus” and illustrate potential best-practice examples. View Full-Text
Keywords: sustainable mineral economics; resource efficiency; sustainable mining; circular economy; resource management; policy-making; phosphate rock mining; system innovation sustainable mineral economics; resource efficiency; sustainable mining; circular economy; resource management; policy-making; phosphate rock mining; system innovation
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Geissler, B.; Hermann, L.; Mew, M.C.; Steiner, G. Striving Toward a Circular Economy for Phosphorus: The Role of Phosphate Rock Mining. Minerals 2018, 8, 395.

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