The life of Florida’s phosphate industry could be drastically extended if recent technological innovations from JDC Phosphate Inc., a company based in Fort Meade, FL, come to fruition. The company is attempting to use its “Improved Hard Process” (IHP) to revolutionize the phosphoric acid manufacturing process.
Using low-grade phosphate rock and even waste products from previously mined rock, JDC says its IHP has the potential to nearly triple the amount of phosphate reserves available for fertilizer production.
Current phosphate production in Florida primarily employs a “wet acid process” where mineable phosphate rock is mixed with sulphuric acid to produce phosphoric acid. The phosphoric acid is then mixed with ammonia to create diammonium phosphate (DAP).
The same process also creates phosphogypsum – mostly calcium sulphate – a by-product that is typically stored in large stacks surrounding fertilizer plants. These phosphogypsum stacks have been an environmental concern for many residents who have concerns about radiation emissions and water contamination, risks that the US Environmental Protection Agency believes are “in line with acceptable risk practices.”
JDC’s IHP, however, produces no phosphogypsum and is still able to produce phosphoric acid from low-grade phosphate rock by using heat instead of acid.
Using a kiln-based system, IHP converts agglomerated mixtures of petroleum coke, low-grade phosphate ore, and silica into phosphoric acid with an inert solid aggregate as its by-product. IHP also permits the use of leaner phosphate ores because it has greater tolerance of some common impurities such as silica, organic content, and magnesium.
JDC’s process, which has undergone a number of iterations since the 1970s, has received two technical reviews by KEMWorks, an engineering and consulting company that specializes in phosphate project development, and has also been described in a scientific paper by Dr. Joseph Megy, JDC’s chief technical officer.
A Phosphate Research Institute study has also shown that central Florida has 1.8 times the quantity of low-grade phosphate reserves ready for processing with IHP compared with the mineable reserves suitable for the wet-acid process, the company’s CEO, Tip Fowler, said recently.
JDC is now financing the construction of a $20 million demonstration plant in Fort Meade that will prove IHP can work on an industrial scale. With a starting production target of about 12,000 tons of phosphoric acid a year, JDC hopes it can ramp up output to 200,000 tons so that it can licence the technology to existing and start-up companies.
Phosphate rock reserves
Previously, some have suggested that phosphate rock - the ore source of phosphate fertilizer – will see mineable resources peak around 2030. Recent discoveries in Morocco, however, have vastly increased the 2030 peak date with discoveries of more than 50 million tonnes – 75 percent of world reserves – buried in the Moroccan and Western Saharan deserts.
The US Geological Survey estimated Florida’s phosphate reserves will be exhausted by 2070. Innovations like the IHP are expected to continue to increase the life of recoverable phosphate reserves in a number of countries as large quantities of phosphates are likely to be recovered from existing phosphogypsum stacks, or will be more efficiently processed to begin with.
Exploration and mineral development have progressed more quickly in the phosphate industry than in that of potash due to the lower mining and beneficiation costs of phosphate rock extraction and processing.
In recent weeks, phosphate fertilizer sales increased on North American farm sales. However, not all companies have had comparable fortunes in the first quarter of this year. The parent company of Mississippi Phosphates reported a net loss of US$1.1 million on lower sales and lower phosphate prices.
“Phosphate market conditions during our first quarter were challenging,” CEO Robert E. Jones said.
“Dealer reluctance to stock inventories in advance of the spring planting season resulted in weak demand and declining DAP prices in the U.S.”
Securities Disclosure: I, James Wellstead, hold no direct investment interest in any company or resource mentioned in this article