Will Mineral Fertilizers Save Humanity from Extinction?

A Russian-Belorussian research team has come up with a new method for obtaining mineral fertilizers from potash ore using industrial oils. The proposed method makes it possible to extract up to 95% of the potassium chloride contained in the ore, the most common and popular mineral fertilizer. The findings were published in the Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology.

According to the World Bank, global human population growth amounts to around 75 million annually, or 1.1% per year. The 2020 World Population Data Sheet indicates that world population is projected to increase from 7.8 billion in 2020 to 9.9 billion by 2050. As demand for food increases with rapidly expanding population and our planet keeps losing its topsoil to climate change, mineral fertilizers help farmers grow more food on less land. International Fertilizer Association forecasts global fertilizer use to reach 208 million tons per year by 2025/26.

In 2020, Russia ranked second in global fertilizer production, behind China. The country’s Verkhnekamsk potassium-magnesium salt deposit is one of the largest in the world, producing about 30% of global potash ore supply.

Potassium (K) is an essential nutrient for plant growth and one of the key components of commercial fertilizers. It helps strengthen plants’ abilities to resist disease and plays an important role in increasing crop yields and overall quality. Potassium chloride (KCl) is the most highly-valued and widely-used potassium fertilizer in the world.

Traditionally, it is extracted from potash ore in flotation process using various flotation reagents, or collectors (chemical compounds that help separate minerals from the rest of the sediment).

The scientists from NUST MISIS and the Institute of General and Inorganic Chemistry of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus have found that introducing industrial oils into the composition of a collector intensifies the flotation of potash ore and promotes an increase in the extraction of potassium chloride.

“The research conducted at the Institute of General Chemistry of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus found that the introduction of industrial oils I-8A, I-12A and I-30A into the composition of the collector contributes to an increase in the extraction of potassium chloride into the concentrate. Together with our colleagues from NUST MISIS, we investigated the regularities and the phenomena occurring in the flotation process with the introduction of the oils,” noted the main author of the study Elena Osipova, researcher at the Institute of General Chemistry of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.

Flotation experiments were carried out on potash ore with a potassium chlorid content of 27.21 wt%. Aqueous emulsions for flotation were modified by introducing oils I-8A, I-12A and I-30A into the collective mixture. These oils are commonly used for machines and mechanisms of industrial equipment, and as hydraulic liquids.

“The experiment showed that the introduction of industrial oils into the collector improves the efficiency of the potassium chloride extraction by about 11%, up to almost 95%,” said Valentin Romanovsky, Senior Researcher at Research Center for Structural Ceramic Nanomaterials at NUST MISIS.