MLS 2.5: Sustainable mining

Abstract/Description (5/2013)

An increasing global population will necessitate enormous changes in agricultural production, with the associated increasing demand for industrial fertilizers, of which phosphorous is a major constituent. All living organisms need phosphorus for their survival. Phosphorus is neither substitutable nor is it possible to produce it synthetically – natural phosphorus deposits must be mined. Exploitation of these phosphorus resources inevitably impacts the environment and society.

The organisers of the Global TraPs World Conference in Beijing would like to invite key mining companies to the Mutual Learning Session on Sustainable Mining. The objective of the session is to provide a precompetitive and protected arena where discussion and learning can take place around issues of sustainable phosphorus mining and management: what barriers exist and need to be overcome, and what options are available to increase the positive and reduce the negative impacts of phosphorus mining.

The prelimanary identification of key questions and learning fields shall facilitate this learning process. Participating in this process will allow you, together with colleagues from the mining sector and researchers working in this area, to discuss and debate crucial aspects of sustainable development in phosphorus mining and so develop a shared understanding of the issues. An ideal outcome would be the initiation of a durable “industry to industry” and “industry to science” dialogue, which shall facilitate a durable experience sharing and capacity building. This may contribute to global policy development and drive future scientific and technology generation efforts. An added benefit of this procedure is the strengthening of your mining company network. Proceedings from the session will be compiled, highlighting important lessons learnt.*

*This is the first version (May 3rd, 2013) of the description of what will be dealt with in the MLS 2.5 Sustainable Mining and provides only a rough description of what will be discussed. A group of practitioners and scientists are currently revising this abstract and composing a booklet which will prepare all participants for the MLS on June 18. Please contact Sebastian Wunderlich (sebastian.wunderlich(a), member of the TD Support team, or Anh Pallas (a.pham(a), Science manager of Global TraPs, if you want to join.

Executive Summary of MLS 2.5 Sustainable Mining DS 3.3 Supply Security of the 1st Global TraPs World Conference, Beijing 2013 (written 8/2013; released 3/2014

Preliminary note: No abstract is available for this Dialog Session. The following text comprises the orientations discussed and identified in the joint Dialogue Session 3.3 & Mutual Learning 2.5. Sebastian Wunderlich (MSc. student University of Oldenburg), facilitated this Dialogue Session of the 1st Global TraPs World Conference, July 18-20, 2013 and is responsible author of this summary. Nineteen people, eleven scienctists and eight practitioners collaborated in this joint session. For further questions, please contact Prof. Ulli Vilsmaier, Leuphana University, Lüneburg (, Prof. Roland W. Scholz, Fraunhofer  IGB ( and Gerald Steiner Gerald (

Preparation Phase

The Dialogue Session on Phosphorus Supply Security and the Mutual Learning Session on Sustainable Phosphorus Mining were merged due to thematic cross-cutting and organisational reasons. Friedrich-Wilhelm Wellmer (former President of the Federal German Geological Survey) and David A. Vaccari (Stevens Institute of Technology, Department Director Civil, Environmental and Ocean Engineering, USA) prepared the Dialogue Session so as to investigate options, which meet public concerns and improve the transparency as well as the safeguarding concerning the future availability of phosphorus. So far, it could not have been clarified, which international institutional framework is capable to fulfil these requirements. Inevitably linked to these concerns are questions regarding the sustainability of the phosphorus supply structure, which is characterised by primary and secondary phosphorus sources. The latter is produced via recycling procedures, whereas primary phosphorus has to be mined and is by far the predominant source for economic processes today.
The stakeholders of the preparation process of the Mutual Learning Session on Sustainable Phosphorus Mining identified two thematic fields, which are of special interest. Issues around the improvement and the more efficient design of mining and beneficiation recovery procedures form one field, while environmental and social impacts of phosphorus mining were identified as the other. Ingrid Watson (University of the Witwatersrand, Programme Manager Biophysical Environment at the Centre for Sustainability in Mining and Industry, South Africa), Gerald Steiner (Harvard University, Visiting Scholar at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, USA) and Roland Scholz (Fraunhofer ISC, Project Group Materials Recycling and Resource Strategies, Science Leader of Global TraPs, Germany) were the facilitators of this preparation process.


Global TraPs World Conference, June 18th, 2013, Beijing

Dialogue Session on Phosphorus Supply Security
Starting from these considerations, the workshop facilitators, Friedrich-Wilhelm Wellmer, David A. Vaccari and Gerald Steiner, separated the session into two parts. The first part primarily dealt with the topics identified during the preparation phase of the Dialogue Session on Phosphorus Supply Security. This was done by a series of presentations, which elaborated various aspects of the issues at stake. Friedrich-Wilhelm Wellmer provided a presentation on Means and Policy for Securing Supply, which informed the participants about the challenges regarding the management and transparency of the availability of primary and secondary phosphorus. Stephen Jasinski (U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Specialist Phosphate Rock and Potash, USA) talked about the reporting of reserves of the Phosphate Deposits of Iraq. Nikolinka Shakhramanyan (Leuphana University Lueneburg, Postdoc at the Institute of Ethic and Transdisciplinary Sustainability Research, Germany) discussed the results of her current research activities, which deal with The impacts of higher mineral phosphorus prices on the use of phosphorus sources from livestock waste management systems in European agriculture. Finally, David A. Vaccari gave further details on The Limiting Factor: Phosphorus Sustainability: Recovery versus Reuse. Each presentation was discussed and commented by the audience.

World Café

The second part of the merged session consisted of a world café, which is an interactive large group intervention method. The participants were asked to split in smaller groups and to collect critical questions of phosphorus supply security and sustainable phosphorus mining. These questions were clustered and discussed during the plenary and the following sub-groups were created: Transparency & Forecasting, Sustainability, Secondary sources/Case study: China and Mining. Selected workshop participants facilitated the different sub-groups. The other participants were asked to rotate and contribute to each of them. Finally, the sub-group facilitators presented the outcomes and policy orientations.

Outcomes & Policy Orientations regarding Phosphorus Supply Security

The Transparency & Forecasting Sub-Group was concerned about the occurrence of Peak Phosphorus and potential measures, which can ease the need for robust solutions. These concerns are directly linked to the question of how future food security impacts on phosphorus demand. In this thematic context, the main assumption was that the scarcity of phosphorus will induce a price increase and give economic actors an impetus to investigate potential solutions. Even though it is not possible to provide reliable forecasts of the future availability of phosphorus beyond 300 years, the workshop participants were confident that enough time remains to solve the emerging phosphorus challenge. Nevertheless, unnecessary dissipation of an essential and non-renewable resource such as phosphorus is a concern of greatest importance and has to be proactively tackled.
Therefore, the sub-group dealt with the question of how to delay the depletion of phosphate rock. Already today, a more prudent and efficient utilisation of phosphorus is possible. It can be achieved by applying existing methods of reduction and recycling, which are already largely technically and economically feasible. These are the rational application of phosphorus in agriculture (i.a. productive use of animal manure and sewage sludge), efficient mining and beneficiation recovery procedures, the reduction of food waste and innovative phosphorus recovery techniques (i.a. P extraction from household wastes, wastewater and sewage sludge (struvite) as well as the production of sludge incineration ash). Additional measures are the introduction of unconventional resources like phosphorite nodules and the increase of soil fertility by other means.
Within the Sustainability Sub-Group environmental issues (i.a. eutrophication, gypstacks, land disruption, greenhouse gases) and issues of future security (i.a. food insecurity, geopolitical conflict) came under particular scrutiny. These challenges require an immediate response as well as mid- and long-term countermeasures. In addition to the measures outlined above the group highlighted the utilisation of phosphogypsum and the reclamation of mine sites as means of recycling and environmental recuperation. In the long run, it might be possible to effectively implement population controls as well as change diets and lifestyles.
The Secondary sources/Case study: China Sub-Group was mainly concerned with stricter environmental regulations for the conduction of phosphorus recycling seeing that it goes hand in hand with hazardous by-products like gypsum, clays, and flotation materials. Thanks to their knowledge, a possible resolution is that fertiliser companies give farmers advice on how and when to recycle phosphorus for achieving higher yields with lower environmental impacts. Such collaboration will only emerge, if the acceptance of this social responsibility is also economically beneficial for the fertiliser industry.
Only a portfolio of diverse measures can promote the successful implementation of these policy orientations. These are social mechanisms like educational measures, reasonable subsidies, the removal of regulatory barriers, emission trading and tax policies, which tackle “bad behaviour” and not the products themselves. The conduction of further research and development is imperative to raise the effectiveness of these undertakings and to prevent environmental pollution and the occurrence of a Peak Phosphorus at all.
Finally, the other matter of concern of the Secondary sources/Case study: China Sub-Group was Chinese phosphorus reserves and resources. Unfortunately, it is not transparent how much Chinese phosphate rock is available. It remains unclear whether China’s high production figures lead to increased exports, stockpiles or domestic usage nor for how long these rates can be maintained before decline occurs. Furthermore, there is still no clarity regarding the classification of China’s phosphorus reserves and resources reporting. It is comprehensible that international experts have a strong interest in these matters and would highly appreciate more publications in English.


Outcomes & Policy Orientations regarding Sustainable Phosphorus Mining

The Mining Sub-Group elaborated questions on efficiency (i.a. What is the potential efficiency of a phosphorus operation (e.g. quality of rock, lab work)?, How can mining efficiency be improved and extended to lower grade ores?, Is a best practice sharing possible?, How can the removal of impurities be achieved (e.g. Cd, radionuclides, Hg)?) and referred to the already identified guiding question and critical issues, which were discussed during the previous Global TraPs workshops in Switzerland (2011) and Morocco (2012).
The Global TraPs Mining Node representatives tried to further develop the dialogue between the phosphorus mining companies with the help of the first Global TraPs World Conference. It is understood that these attempts have to be supplemented by a more comprehensive consultation with key phosphorus mining companies. Therefore, the way forward consists of the confirmation of the guiding question and key issues with a representative group of stakeholders. After a prioritisation phase, the conceptualisation and implementation of further research projects and case studies shall provide a detailed picture of the issues at stake. The second Global TraPs World Conference in 2015 will mark the final step of this process, which will ideally lead to a strong industry-to-industry/industry-to-science network dealing with critical sustainability issues of phosphorus mining on a continuous basis.