Sustainable Phosphorus Management: A Transdisciplinary Challenge

  • Roland W. Scholz
  • Amit H. Roy
  • Deborah T. Hellums
Chapter

Abstract

This chapter begins with a brief review of the history of phosphorus, followed by a description of the role of phosphorus in food security and technology development. It is then followed by discussions on critical issues related to sustainable phosphorus management, such as phosphorus-related pollution, the innovation potential of phosphate fertilizers and fertilizer production, uneven geographical distribution of phosphate resources, transparency of reserves, economic scarcity, and price volatility of phosphate products. In order to identify the deficiencies in the world’s phosphorus flows, we utilize the “not too little–not too much” principle (including the Ecological Paracelsus Principle), which is essential to understanding the issues of pollution, supply security, losses, sinks and efficiency of phosphorus use, and the challenges to closing the phosphorus cycle by recycling and other means. When linking the supply–demand (SD) chain view on phosphorus with a Substance or Material Flux Analysis, the key actors in the global phosphorus cycle become evident. It is apparent that sustainable phosphorus management is a very complex issue that requires a global transdisciplinary process to arrive at a consensus solution. This holds true both from an epistemological (i.e., knowledge) perspective as well as from a sustainable management perspective. To gain a complete picture of the current phosphorus cycle, one requires knowledge from a broad spectrum of sciences, ranging from geology, mining, and chemical engineering; soil and plant sciences; and all facets of agricultural and environmental sciences to economics, policy, and behavioral and decision science. As phosphorus flows are bound to specific historical, sociocultural, and geographical issues as well as financial and political interests, the understanding of the complex contextual constraints requires knowledge of related sciences. The need for transdisciplinary processes is equally evident from a sustainable transitioning perspective. In order to identify options, drivers, and barriers to improving phosphorus flows, one requires processes in; capacity building that may be changed and consensus building on the phosphorus use practices that must be changed and maintained, along with recognition of how changes in phosphorus use in the current market may be framed. The latter is illustrated by means of the Global TraPs (Global Transdisciplinary Processes for Sustainable Phosphorus Management) project, a multi-stakeholder initiative including key stakeholders on both sides of the phosphorus SD chain which includes mutual learning between science and society.

Keywords

Sustainable phosphorus management Supply–demand chain analysis Food security Environmental impacts 

Supplementary material

Fig. a

A blueprint of global phosphorus flows along the steps of the supply–demand chain (non-incorporating virtual flows) referring to the phosphate rock production in 2011 including an equivalent of 25 Mt P year−1 according to USGS (2012) (there is high uncertainty with some data, see text)

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roland W. Scholz
    • 1
    • 2
  • Amit H. Roy
    • 3
  • Deborah T. Hellums
    • 3
  1. 1.Fraunhofer Project Group Materials Recycling and Resource Strategies IWKSAlzenauGermany
  2. 2.ETH ZürichNatural and Social Science Interface (NSSI)ZürichSwitzerland
  3. 3.International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC)Muscle ShoalsUSA

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