Norway Could Be Sitting On A Century’s Worth Of Phosphate Deposits

The deposit is estimated to contain approximately 70 billion metric tons of phosphate rock, roughly equivalent to the known global reserves of phosphate, which are estimated to be 71 billion metric tons. It could upend the global equations for trading in this critical input for agriculture and other sectors massively

The underground deposit of high-grade phosphate discovered in Norway is so big that it could provide enough of the critical material used to make fertilizer, solar panels, and electric vehicle batteries for the next century, according to Norge Mining, the mining company that made the discovery.

The Norwegian mining company leading the project has completed the exploration phase and determined that the deposit is significantly larger than anticipated. As per media reports, the deposit is estimated to contain approximately 70 billion metric tons of phosphate rock. According to the US Geological Survey, this amount is roughly equivalent to the known global reserves of phosphate, which are estimated to be 71 billion metric tons.

In 2018, Norge Mining made the initial discovery of the deposit, initially estimating its depth to be 300 meters underground. However, subsequent exploration revealed that the deposit extended much deeper, reaching an astonishing depth of 4,500 meters. This depth surpassed the limits of drilling technology, making it impossible to fully explore the extent of the deposit.

How Important is Phosphate?

Phosphate rock, which creates phosphorous, is a critical component used in various industries. Firstly, it is indispensable for fertilizer production, which is vital for powering the global food supply. The price of fertilizer can be highly sensitive to shocks, as witnessed during the early days of the war in Ukraine. Over 90 per cent of the world’s phosphate rock is dedicated to agricultural purposes, highlighting its significance in sustaining crop growth.

Moreover, phosphate is also essential in the production of solar panels and next-generation lithium batteries. Its inclusion in these technologies provides advantages such as higher energy density, enhanced safety, and longer lifespan compared to lithium-ion versions. Additionally, in smaller quantities, phosphorus plays a role in semiconductor manufacturing.

The biggest phosphate rock deposits in the world are in Morocco (50 billion metric tons), and Egypt, Tunisia, and Algeria follow as per Statista. While the U.S. has significant phosphate mines of its own, virtually none of the biggest producers of the raw material are in the West.

Other Minerals

In addition to phosphorus, the phosphate rock deposit is reported to contain valuable resources such as vanadium and titanium.

Titanium is a vital material used in aircraft construction, including fighter jets. Vanadium is essential for improving steel quality and is also used in large-scale advanced liquid batteries utilized by power companies.

Europe and America heavily rely on unreliable suppliers for these minerals. For instance, Airbus sources half of its titanium from a Russian manufacturer, while Boeing’s Japanese titanium suppliers import ore from Africa, potentially under Chinese control. Vanadium production is dominated by China, Russia, South Africa, and Brazil, with the US heavily dependent on imports. The growing concerns over food security and efforts to revitalize chip and solar industries have made phosphates and phosphorus particularly relevant for Europe and America.

What Lies Ahead for Norwegian Deposit?

Before commencing actual mining operations at Norway Phosphate deposits, Norge Mining must navigate through a comprehensive permitting process, as the European Union (EU) mandated. The Norwegian government has reportedly shown strong support for the project. However, the European Commission has recently put forth a proposal to classify phosphate rock as a critical mineral rather than a strategic one. This potential reclassification could potentially slow down the permitting process in Brussels, as critical discoveries are not eligible for the same expedited approvals granted to strategic ones. Norway, although not an EU member state, is bound by certain regulations due to its participation in the European Economic Area (EEA).

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