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Where is Phosphorus Found & How is it Obtained?

Instructor: Kimberly Uptmor

Kimberly has a bachelor's degree in Secondary Education: Science and has master's in Curriculum and Instruction. Currently, she teaches 7th grade through college level classes.

Discovered in 1600s, phosphorus is such an important element in our world, especially for our survival. This lesson explains the location and production of phosphorus in our current world.

An Important Element

Did you know that if the element phosphorus was not present within our world today, we would not be able to grow the necessary crops to feed the entire population of the world? Farmers use phosphorus as the main source for fertilizing plants because phosphorus helps the plants grow in the best conditions. Who knew such a small element would be so important for our survival!

From the time that it was discovered in the 1600s, phosphorus has come a long way to the production rates of today. In this lesson, let's look at how this important element is obtained and produced for our world.

Beginning of Phosphorus Production

Hennig Brand
Hennig Brand

Phosphorus was first discovered in the late 1600s by Hennig Brand, who was conducting experiments with urine and collected phosphorus from condensation. He thought he had discovered the philosopher's stone, an item that would turn any metal into gold, and decided to keep it a secret. Once his funds were depleted, Brand decided to sell some of his phosphorus. This is when this new element became widely known, even among great scientists like Robert Boyle.

However, making phosphorus within the lab was not the best way to produce a much-needed element. Phosphate mines were first documented in England in 1847, and then later in the United States in 1867. One of the biggest reserves of phosphate within the United States is located in Florida. Even to this day, Florida's mines account for 25% of the world's phosphate production.

Best Location of Phosphorus

Today, there are many countries around the world that mine for phosphate. The biggest producers include Morocco, China, and the United States. Large sources have also been found in Russia, Egypt, Algeria, Peru, and Brazil. In 2013, it was believed that most phosphate rock mines were entirely surface mines, which are mines above ground that use draglines and bucket wheel excavators for obtaining large deposits of phosphorus.

Because phosphate is such a necessity for living things, many believe that there will be a 'peak phosphorus' event around the year 2050. 'Peak phosphorus' event is a hypothesis where mining and production of phosphorus will increase so much in the next 20-30 years that it will no longer be found as a source on earth. It is true that production of phosphorus is supposed to double within a few years, due to the demand of much-needed fertilizer to feed the population of the world. However, studies have shown that each country has not been completely been explored for this element, which could only mean there may be more phosphate resources available out there. For now, studies have shown that there are enough phosphate reserves for the next 300-400 years.

Making of Usable Phosphorus

When it comes to mining for phosphorus, it is not found in nature as a pure substance. Rather, it is found mixed with other substances in a mineral resource called phosphate rock. Phosphate rock is an unprocessed ore that contains apatite, or a group of calcium phosphate minerals. Once the mineral is processed, the phosphate can be readily used.

It is important to know that phosphate rock is present as two different types of rock: sedimentary and igneous. Sedimentary rock is a rock that is formed from sediment being solidified together after years of layered together. This type of phosphate rock is formed from marine life. Phosphate rock can also be igneous rock, which is a rock that is formed from molten rock that has cooled down. Presently, phosphate rock is mined as sedimentary rock.

Red Phosphorus Sample
Red Phosphorus Sample

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