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What Are the Different Industrial Uses of Phosphorus?

By Ray Hawk
Updated May 17, 2024
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Phosphorus is obtained from phosphate compounds found in sedimentary and igneous rock deposits and is seen as a diminishing world resource, and an element necessary for all life on Earth. The most widespread of uses of phosphorus compounds are in agriculture. It is estimated that as of 2004, 95% of all global phosphorus production went to produce agricultural fertilizers, animal feeds, and chemical pesticides to increase crop yields. Other key industries for the uses of phosphorus in large quantities include the food production industry, pharmaceuticals, and high-tech electronics.

Plant fertilizers are composed of primarily one of four types of phosphorus compounds. These are diammonium phosphate (DAP), monoammonium phosphate (MAP), triple superphosphate (TSP), or single superphosphate (SSP), though they are not the only phosphate chemicals that go into making fertilizer. Phosphoric acid is also manufactured as one of the uses of phosphorus, and is consumed to make both fertilizer, many soaps, and soft drinks..

Since one of the uses of phosphorus is in food production, it is important to note that it is the second most abundant element in the human body after calcium, comprising roughly 1% of body weight. About 85% of phosphorus in the human body is found in the bones, but the rest is involved in deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA) production, as well as to balance out other minerals, such as vitamin D, iodine, and zinc. While the element is abundant in many natural foods, it is also increasingly added to processed foods such as sauces, beverages, and baked goods. Any food manufacturing method that involves canning, freezing, or pre-cooking packaged foods usually involves uses of phosphorus compounds in the process.

One of the main sources of phosphate pollution of waterways is due to the uses of phosphorus in common household chemicals, such as laundry detergents and other cleaning supplies that get washed down the drain. It also has important applications as an additive in paints and primers, and as a coating for steel and the glazes on the surface of fine china. Pharmaceuticals that often have it on the ingredients list include toothpaste and other types of dental-related creams.

Phosphate coatings and phosphor coatings use red phosphorus, which has a polymeric crystalline structure. Common applications include in the semiconductor industry, in flame retardant clothing, and in the manufacture of fireworks and matches. White phosphorus has a tetrahedral crystalline structure and is used in chemical pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides as the chemical phosphorus trichloride, PCl3. Around 500,000 tons of PCl3 has been manufactured on an annual, global basis as of 2004.

The nation with the greatest deposits of phosphorus is Morocco, with around 63% of estimated total world reserves of the mineral. Global production levels began to rise in the mid 1800s, and, as of 2002, 125,000,000 tons of phosphate rock were being mined per year. The United States produces over 30,000,000 tons of phosphate rock per year, followed closely by Morocco and China, that each produce over 20,000,000 tons. This is despite the fact that the US has only 4% to 10% of world reserves of the mineral and China has an estimated 2% to 25% of it.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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