A reserve for 50 years: 70 billion tons: What the record find of phosphate in Norway means

This find could meet the world's need for phosphate for the next 50 years: An enormous amount of phosphate rock was discovered in southern Norway.

A reserve for 50 years: 70 billion tons: What the record find of phosphate in Norway means

This find could meet the world's need for phosphate for the next 50 years: An enormous amount of phosphate rock was discovered in southern Norway. An estimated 70 billion tons lie underground.

It is a find that has never been made on this scale before. A look at the remaining phosphate deposits in the world makes this clear: In January 2022, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) put the total global phosphate deposits at 71 billion tons. Most of it is in Morocco.

This is a "significant discovery," said Michael Wurmser, founder of the mining company Norge Mining, the news portal "Euractiv".

The find is of great importance for many industries in particular. Phosphate is classified as a "critical raw material" in the European Union.

"Critical commodities" are commodities for which demand is increasing rapidly. For these raw materials, however, Europe is heavily dependent on imports from abroad. Many of the suppliers in third countries, for example China, have a "virtual monopoly position", as the European Union puts it. In addition to phosphorus and phosphorite, these raw materials also include hafnium, cobalt, bauxite, titanium and lithium.

The EU is therefore pleased with the Norwegian find: "The discovery is indeed great news that would contribute to the objectives of the Commission's proposal for the Critical Raw Materials Act," a Commission spokesman told "Euractiv".

Because phosphate is needed in three important areas: in the steel industry, in the battery industry and in the production of fertilizers. About 90 percent of the phosphate rock mined worldwide is used in agriculture to produce phosphorus for the fertilizer industry. In 2013, for example, 83 percent of phosphate imports in Germany were used for fertilizer.

"The Europeans are 90 percent dependent on raw material imports from abroad," Wurmser explained to the broadcaster ntv. The largest suppliers of raw materials have so far been China and Russia.

And not only that: "Fertilizers are important for food and nutrition security." If the raw materials then have to be imported, you have a problem, Wurmser continues.

However, phosphate is not only needed in agriculture, but also for future technologies. The raw material is needed for the production of solar cells, batteries for electric cars, but also semiconductors and computer chips - products that the EU describes as "strategically important" for aerospace, defense and the green and digital transition.

The Norwegian discovery can therefore make the EU independent of third countries when importing these raw materials. In an interview with "Euractiv" Wurmser said: "That's why we believe that the phosphorus that we can produce will be important for the West - it gives autonomy."

And that is urgently needed, as the authors of an article in the journal "Nature" wrote last year. "Future disruptions to safe access to phosphorus are likely to be geopolitical and economic long before global reserves are depleted."

Norge Mining had already discovered the phosphate in 2018, based on information from the Geological Survey in Norway. Initially, it was assumed that the deposits were located at a depth of around 300 meters. The company later found out that the orebody is at a depth of 4500 meters - a depth at which it is currently impossible to drill, reports "Euractiv".

Geologists only evaluated a third of the volume, namely up to 1,500 meters below the surface. Taken together, these are "at least 70 billion tons of mineralized phosphate rock," according to Wurmser. In addition to phosphate, the area also contains the "critical raw materials" vanadium and titanium.

According to Wurmser at ntv, the EU must now concentrate on securing raw materials - in an area that is politically within the EU. But that is what is difficult at the moment. It is "very important that the industry and the countries in the EU know that there is a need now." Brussels must understand the importance of these raw materials.

But: “They really want to push that forward now.” In February, Norge Mining and the European Raw Material Alliance (ERMA) jointly announced that ERMA would support Norge Mining in securing financing.

The situation is different in the discovery country of Norway, where the government is "very supportive" of the project, according to the mining boss. The basic requirements for the issuance of mining licenses have been met, including the economic feasibility studies.

However, it will be some time before the valuable phosphate treasure can be found in Norway. Mining takes up to 15 years from discovery to commercial exploitation. For Norway, however, phosphate has the potential to become the next gold mine after oil and gas.

Sources: Norge Mining, USGS, EUR-Lex, Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources, European Commission, "Nature", ntv, "Euractiv"