Massive phosphate deposits in Norway could help build batteries and solar panels for 100 years

70-billion tonnes deposit will help in the manufacturing of fertilizers and batteries for years to come.
Ameya Paleja
Stock image of a phosphate mineral mine
Stock image of a phosphate mineral mine

Brian Brown/iStock 

Phosphate deposits to the tune of 70 billion tonnes have been confirmed in Norway, The Independent reported.

The discovery was made in 2018 by Norge Mining, and the site's exploration has now confirmed the size, which is just shy of the 71 billion tonnes of global reserves as estimated by the US Geological Survey.

Phosphate is a critical component of the agriculture supply chain, with 90 percent of the mined mineral used to make fertilizers. Of late, phosphate has found utility in lithium-ion batteries that can power electric vehicles (EVs) and energy storage systems.

Even as the world looks to scale greener technologies, the limits on phosphate availability have been viewed as a significant impediment to its usage. Worsening geopolitical tensions are also not helping the cause, as regions like the EU have depended on imports to meet their phosphate needs.

The massive deposit in Norway

According to US estimates, the largest deposits of phosphate, around 50 billion tonnes, are located in the Western Sahara region, followed by those in China (3.2 billion tonnes) and Egypt (2.8 billion tonnes).

The discovery of newer deposits in Norway will come as a significant relief to Western nations whose greener pursuits can come to a grinding halt if the producer countries raise tariffs or impose export restrictions.

Supply disruptions were already witnessed after the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year, and the EU regards phosphate as a "critical" raw material if not a strategic one.

The Norwegian Geological Survey estimated that the ore deposits extended to about 1,000 feet (300 m) underground. However, during the exploration phase, Norge Mining drilled in two zones and found that the deposits extended to over 14,700 feet (4,500 m).

Currently, available technologies do not support drilling to depths of 14,000 feet, so the mining company has decided only to evaluate deposits in a third of the volume. i.e., a depth of nearly 5,000 feet (1,500 m).

Based on these numbers, the company now estimates that the region has reserves of 70 billion tonnes of phosphate, slightly less than the world's reserves.

A novel approach to Mining

However, the challenge to mining the mineral is not from the technology but the region's policy. Phosphorous mining is carbon intensive process, and Europe has steered away from processing the ore due to the pollution it creates.

This is also one of the reasons why phosphorous refining industries are currently located in countries such as China, Vietnam, and Kazakhstan, where the norms are less stringent. Thus, even though phosphorous might help facilitate the electrification of transport or conversion of solar energy into electricity, its production is not environment-friendly.

Norge Mining is therefore looking at techniques like carbon capture and storage to reduce the emissions from the process. The recent finding is an opportunity for Europe to demonstrate that it can achieve the highest environmental standards for mining, no matter how bizarre that might sound.

The deposits also contain vanadium and titanium, minerals that have clean energy and aerospace applications, respectively.

The ball is now in the court of the Norwegian and EU governments to provide the permits that could help in sourcing minerals to build batteries and solar panels for 100 years.

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