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Innovation in resourcing geological materials as crop nutrients

Lookup NU author(s): Professor David ManningORCiD



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Mineral resources are fundamental to the growth and development of human society. Extraction of metal ores has risen very slightly as a proportion of all resources, while construction and industrial mineral extraction has grown much more rapidly. This reflects growth in GDP, which is much faster than population growth, in turn reflecting improved standards of living, growth in urban housing/infrastructure and growth in the consumer society. Fertilizer minerals in particular are essential resources for production of the food needed by an increasing global population. Nitrogen fertilizer manufacture requires fossil fuels –especially natural gas (methane) as a source of the hydrogen needed for the Haber-Bosch process. Phosphate fertilizers are predominantly manufactured using phosphate rock as a source of phosphoric acid, and there is scope to recover phosphorus from contaminated waters. Potassium fertilizers are produced from evaporate deposits, mainly in the global north. It is difficult to poorer countries with deeply leached soils to access existing conventional products. Globally, while N and P fertilizer application replaces the nutrient removed by crops and so is in balance, twice as much K is being removed from soils as is being replaced. This leads to the need for innovation in developing novel sources of K, especially to support agricultural production in the global south. Rocks containing K silicate minerals (such as feldspar and nepheline) occur widely as possible sources of K for use in soils where these minerals weather rapidly. Observations of surface corrosion in feldspars taken from soils after 10 years exposure to soil microbial systems demonstrates rates of dissolution 4 orders of magnitude greater than determined in the laboratory. Innovation in use of these minerals depends on an understanding of the role of microbial processes in silicate mineral decomposition.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Manning DAC

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Natural Resources Research

Year: 2018

Volume: 27

Issue: 2

Pages: 217-227

Print publication date: 01/04/2018

Online publication date: 01/06/2017

Acceptance date: 24/05/2017

Date deposited: 26/05/2017

ISSN (print): 1520-7439

ISSN (electronic): 1573-8981

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/s11053-017-9347-2


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