Published October 2015
The term phosphate rock is broadly used to denote minerals commercially valued for their phosphorus content. It is estimated that 85% of the world’s annual phosphate rock supply is converted into phosphoric acid and elemental phosphorus (P4) intermediates that are further processed into various organic and inorganic chemicals consumed in agriculture and industry. An additional 15% is consumed in the manufacture of normal superphosphate fertilizer. The primary market for phosphate rock derivatives is agriculture; at least 90% of the world supply is consumed annually in the production of phosphate fertilizers, with an additional 4–6% used for livestock and poultry feed supplements and in organophosphate pesticides.
The following pie chart shows world consumption of phosphate rock:
The world phosphate rock industry, following a relatively buoyant period that ended in the late 1980s, experienced a sharp decline as a result of the socio-economic-political problems experienced in the former Eastern bloc counties. The global operating rate has been fluctuating from highs in the low 80s to the low 70s.
After the cyclical low in 2001, production increased with demand for phosphate fertilizers until the global economic crisis in the latter part of the past decade. In late 2008, global demand for phosphate fertilizers fell drastically, resulting in minimal trade and reduced production. Recovery since then has been fairly steady and an average annual growth rate of around 2% is projected for consumption during 2015–20. The phosphate rock market, which has been slightly tight until recently, is expected to loosen after capacity addition projects come to fruition during the next five years, coupled with slowing consumption growth.
China is the largest phosphate rock producer, accounting for an estimated 50% of world production in 2015. In October 2008, the Chinese government enacted stricter controls for exports of phosphate rock, based on the need for self sufficiency with respect to domestic consumption for fertilizer production to be used in food cultivation. Africa, the United States, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East are also large producers.
Since 2010, consumption has recovered an at average rate of 6% per year and growth is expected to continue. Real global GDP is projected to increase at a rate of 2.6% in 2015, 3.2% in 2016, and 3.4% in 2017. Growth for phosphate rock and, in turn, phosphate fertilizers is dependent primarily on demand from China, India, and Brazil. Population growth governs the consumption of phosphate rock in China. Indian demand depends on government subsidies, which were reduced in 2012 along with price increases. Brazil’s growth is tied to the growth of crops that are used to produce biofuels.