Waste Water into Wine: An Idea for Producing More Phosphorous
Waste water carries a lot of what's known as struvite, a chemical mixture of ammonium, magnesium and phosphate.
One shortage that gets comparably little attention is expected to come with serious consequences. Industrial agriculture around the world, especially in developed countries, has mined soils for phosphorous and nitrogen—two elements vital for growing our food. There’s lots of nitrogen in the atmosphere (it makes up about 78 percent of our air, in fact) but phosphorous is harder to come by.
Every plant and animal needs P (its nickname on the periodic table of the elements) to build healthy cells, Because of the way it absorbs into soils and bonds with other elements, it’s challenging to move around. Morocco has the biggest phosphate deposits in the world, but it’s being depleted alarmingly quickly. A column in Nature last year projected that we could reach peak phosphate by 2030, meaning we’ll need more than we have. After that, it simply won’t be possible, with current means, to feed the entire world.
Racing against that clock is a team of Canadian researchers. Rather than try to convince the world to use less phosphorous (humans are, after all, not great at conserving in times of plenty), they’re trying to produce more of it. One resource we do have is waste water, and lots of it. And fortunately, one chemical prevalent in the water and other stuff we flush down our sinks and toilets is phosphorous.