Professors spotlight dwindling phosphorus reserves


Margaret Coulombe

A Feb. 10 article posted by Miller-McCune Magazine online draws attention to the unregulated use of phosphate rock and evidence for dwindling world supplies. The article, which also explores proposed solutions and concerns as to whether “peak phosphorus could be the unwelcome sequel to peak oil,” quotes ASU Phosphorus Initiative leaders James Elser, acting dean of the School of Life Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and Mark Edwards, a professor of strategic marketing and sustainability sciences with the WP Carey School of Business. The duo, state: “Phosphorus is way under the radar for everybody. Most scientists just aren’t aware of it.”

Elser goes on to note that “There’s a whole industry that needs to be invented to capture phosphorus,” Elser said. “We need a new way of growing crops that keeps it in the field instead of letting it run down into the Gulf of Mexico. We need plants that are more efficient at getting phosphorus.”

The story points out that "phosphorus cannot be manufactured or synthesized in a lab. The only way to avert a supply crisis, researchers say, is to adopt the '3 R’s” of sustainability: 'Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.'"

To meet the rising challenges, Elser, Edwards and Daniel Childers, a professor with the Global Institute of Sustainability, have created the Sustainable Phosphorus Initiative at ASU. They are partnering with researchers in Sweden and Australia, and will host an international Sustainable Phosphorus Summit at ASU in 2011.