Phosphorus phosphate is essential for all living organisms and can not be substituted by any other substance. The element phosphate is a finite and non-renewable resource. Best estimates by well-known international research institutes convey the end of global natural phosphate reserves within the next 50 to 120 years. Raw phosphate ores as natural phosphate carriers are usually extracted in open-pit mining with considerable environmental intervention and processed on site into commercially available crude phosphate concentrate with an average P2O5 content of 27-34%.
Of the approximately 190 million tones of raw phosphates produced worldwide each year, around 85% is used to produce fertilizers. The problem of all raw phosphate ores recovered in geogenic reservoirs is their increasing pollution with pollutants, especially in the form of heavy metals.
Growing world consumption, due to the increase in the world's population, coupled with the expansion of animal production, is leading to rapid phosphate shortages with significant socio-political implications. The years 2007 and 2008 were marked by global supply bottlenecks (so-called phosphate crisis), leading to phosphate price increases of up to 700%.
The International Fertilizer Industry Association (IFA) forecasts a global annual increase in demand for the period up to 2014 of 5%. The European Fertilizer Manufacturers Association (EFMA) expects European phosphate consumption to grow by 3.9% annually between now and 2019. Since Europe has no phosphate ore deposits, consumption of phosphate in Europe is covered by import. The EU-27 imports 2.7 million tones of phosphate per year.
Because of the foreseeable shortage of this essential raw material, research projects initiated by European governments have been launched for some time with the aim of recovering phosphates from biomass. This is to counteract the inevitable shortage. Since phosphates are not substitutable, recovery is actually the only alternative to conserving geogenic deposits.