Skip to Content
Uncategorized

Shortage of Fertilizer Could Impact Food Security

You can add a coming phosphorus shortage to your worry list.
December 17, 2009

This week, while reporting a story on a new reaction that breaks nitrogen triple bonds, I talked to MIT chemist Christopher Cummins about fertilizer. It’s something we take for granted, but ammonia fertilizer feeds the world, and making it requires large amounts of energy and fossil fuels. In order to save on energy, chemists are working on enzymes that mimic bacterial enzymes to “fix” nitrogen into bioaccessible ammonia at low temperatures.

But nitrogen isn’t the only fertilizer we need to worry about, says Cummins. Modern agriculture is also reliant on phosphorus sourced from rocks and that is a non-renewable resource, like oil. According to a review published earlier this year in the journal Global Environmental Change, current global phosphorus reserves may be utterly depleted in 50-100 years, and production will peak in 2030. These resources are concentrated in Morocco, Chile, and the US, and, says Cummins, “many of the readily accessible mines have been used up.”

“Phosphorus is the least abundant of all the biogenic compounds,” he adds. “If you run out of one of those elements, you can’t make life.” With the global population expected to reach ten billion in 2050, this is likely to be a major problem unless these resources are managed better, starting soon.

Deep Dive

Uncategorized

Five poems about the mind

DREAM VENDING MACHINE I feed it coins and watch the spring coil back,the clunk of a vacuum-packed, foil-wrappeddream dropping into the tray. It dispenses all kinds of dreams—bad dreams, good dreams,short nightmares to stave off worse ones, recurring dreams with a teacake marshmallow center.Hardboiled caramel dreams to tuck in your cheek,a bag of orange dreams…

Work reinvented: Tech will drive the office evolution

As organizations navigate a new world of hybrid work, tech innovation will be crucial for employee connection and collaboration.

The way forward: Merging IT and operations

Digital transformation in any industry begins with bridging the gap between two traditionally separate teams.

Investing in people is key to successful transformation

People-related factors like talent attraction and retention and clear top-down communication will determine whether your transformation progresses or stalls.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.