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Fertiliser availability in a resource-limited world: Production and recycling of nitrogen and phosphorus


  • Dawson, C.J.
  • Hilton, J.


Without the input of fertiliser nitrogen it is estimated that only about half of the current global population can be supplied with sufficient food energy and protein. The anticipated increase in the population to 2050 will increase the dependency on fertiliser inputs. The paper examines the different potential sources of energy and hydrogen required for this essential fixation of atmospheric nitrogen into plant-available nitrogenous fertiliser and concludes that methane from natural gas is clearly the most suitable source. In the absence of a cost-effective alternative source of hydrogen it is recommended that an on-going requirement for methane is acknowledged and that consideration be given to strategic reserves for the production of food. Phosphorus is also an essential and unsubstitutable nutrient for plants and animals, but while the global reserves of atmospheric nitrogen are effectively unlimited, the reserves of phosphate rock are finite. Recent estimates of the reserve suggest that at the current rate of use this resource will become exhausted within some hundreds of years. The annual increment of phosphorus contained in the human population is estimated to be in the order of 1 Mt/yr, which is a small proportion of the quantity mined. There is a clear requirement to ensure that phosphorus is recycled to a large extent, so that the rate of exhaustion of the reserves of phosphate rock is significantly reduced. Legislation relating to the management of phosphorus appears entirely associated with its potential to upset natural ecosystems, with apparently no regulations yet requiring the efficient use and reuse of a scarce resource.

Suggested Citation

  • Dawson, C.J. & Hilton, J., 2011. "Fertiliser availability in a resource-limited world: Production and recycling of nitrogen and phosphorus," Food Policy, Elsevier, vol. 36(Supplemen), pages 14-22, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:jfpoli:v:36:y:2011:i:supplement1:p:s14-s22

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Hans-Peter Weikard, 2016. "Phosphorus recycling and food security in the long run: a conceptual modelling approach," Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, Springer;The International Society for Plant Pathology, vol. 8(2), pages 405-414, April.
    2. Vanessa Bach & Markus Berger & Natalia Finogenova & Matthias Finkbeiner, 2017. "Assessing the Availability of Terrestrial Biotic Materials in Product Systems (BIRD)," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 9(1), pages 1-35, January.
    3. Lambrecht, Isabel & Vanlauwe, Bernard & Merckx, Roel & Maertens, Miet, 2014. "Understanding the Process of Agricultural Technology Adoption: Mineral Fertilizer in Eastern DR Congo," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 59(C), pages 132-146.
    4. Boldrin, Alessio & Baral, Khagendra Raj & Fitamo, Temesgen & Vazifehkhoran, Ali Heidarzadeh & Jensen, Ida Græsted & Kjærgaard, Ida & Lyng, Kari-Anne & van Nguyen, Quan & Nielsen, Lise Skovsgaard & Tri, 2016. "Optimised biogas production from the co-digestion of sugar beet with pig slurry: Integrating energy, GHG and economic accounting," Energy, Elsevier, vol. 112(C), pages 606-617.
    5. Reznik, Ami & Feinerman, Eli & Finkelshtain, Israel & Fisher, Franklin & Huber-Lee, Annette & Joyce, Brian & Kan, Iddo, 2017. "Economic implications of agricultural reuse of treated wastewater in Israel: A statewide long-term perspective," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 135(C), pages 222-233.
    6. Wassenaar, T. & Doelsch, E. & Feder, F. & Guerrin, F. & Paillat, J.-M. & Thuriès, L. & Saint Macary, H., 2014. "Returning Organic Residues to Agricultural Land (RORAL) – Fuelling the Follow-the-Technology approach," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 124(C), pages 60-69.
    7. Franklin Egan, J. & Hafla, Aimee & Goslee, Sarah, 2015. "Tradeoffs between production and perennial vegetation in dairy farming systems vary among counties in the northeastern U.S," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 139(C), pages 17-28.
    8. Paul J. A. Withers & Colin Neal & Helen P. Jarvie & Donnacha G. Doody, 2014. "Agriculture and Eutrophication: Where Do We Go from Here?," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 6(9), pages 1-23, September.
    9. repec:eee:jrpoli:v:52:y:2017:i:c:p:81-89 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. repec:kap:iaecre:v:21:y:2015:i:1:p:55-65 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Johannes Dahlin & Verena Halbherr & Peter Kurz & Michael Nelles & Carsten Herbes, 2016. "Marketing Green Fertilizers: Insights into Consumer Preferences," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(11), pages 1-15, November.
    12. Heckenmüller, Markus & Narita, Daiju & Klepper, Gernot, 2014. "Global availability of phosphorus and its implications for global food supply: An economic overview," Kiel Working Papers 1897, Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW).
    13. Michael Barrowclough & L. Geyer, 2015. "Biofuel Policies: The Underground Limitation on Biofuels," International Advances in Economic Research, Springer;International Atlantic Economic Society, vol. 21(1), pages 55-65, March.
    14. Peter Horton & Steve A. Banwart & Dan Brockington & Garrett W. Brown & Richard Bruce & Duncan Cameron & Michelle Holdsworth & S. C. Lenny Koh & Jurriaan Ton & Peter Jackson, 2017. "An agenda for integrated system-wide interdisciplinary agri-food research," Food Security: The Science, Sociology and Economics of Food Production and Access to Food, Springer;The International Society for Plant Pathology, vol. 9(2), pages 195-210, April.
    15. repec:gam:jsusta:v:9:y:2017:i:9:p:1505-:d:109602 is not listed on IDEAS
    16. Ridoutt, Bradley G. & Wang, Enli & Sanguansri, Peerasak & Luo, Zhongkui, 2013. "Life cycle assessment of phosphorus use efficient wheat grown in Australia," Agricultural Systems, Elsevier, vol. 120(C), pages 2-9.


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