Phosphogypsum is a multibillion tonne waste and pollution problem without solution, projected to reach 7-8 billion tonnes of waste stacks worldwide by 2025 [1]. Around 300 million tonnes of waste phosphogypsum, a radioactive material, is produced ever year in the world. Additionally, millions of tonnes of this phosphogypsum is being pumped into seas and oceans. Below are just three sites among hundreds around the world where this alarming situation is taking place:

Whilst waste phosphogypsum cannot be used due to contamination, gypsum is essential in the production of  plasterboard and cement. The global gypsum demand is currently 275 million tonnes per year and is predicted to grow by 9.9% to 480 million tonnes per year by 2026 [2]. However, gypsum supplies are declining due to closure of coal fired power plants which produced flue-gas desulphurisation (FGD) gypsum. Therefore, cleaning waste phosphogypsum will not only be good for the environment but also create a new source for the gypsum industries.

cleangyp
Gypsum


Plasterboard

Cement

Phosphogypsum can contain up to 1% by weight rare earths elements (REEs) [3]. Rare earths have been identified by the British Geological Survey has having the highest relative supply risk of all elements [4]. World demand for rare earths is rising rapidly at approximately 10% per year with China controlling 95% of supply. Much of the new electronics and green technologies rely upon REEs with no option for substitution.


Rare Earth Element


Wind Turbine


Electric Car

Access to plentiful supplies of REEs is critical for the expansion of electric cars (motors and batteries), for wind turbines (stronger magnets eliminate the need for gearboxes, have lower maintenance and are 10% more efficient) and high performance motors. Additionally, many important military applications exist for rare earths.

[1] International Atomic Energy Agency (2013). https://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/Pub1582_web.pdf (pg.111-113)

[2] Smithers Apex, (2016). https://www.smithersapex.com/news/2016/february/global-gypsum-market-set-for-growth

[3] Oak Ridge National Laboratory (2017). https://www.osti.gov/pages/servlets/purl/1437893 (pg.2)

[4] British Geological Survey (2015). https://www.bgs.ac.uk/downloads/start.cfm?id=3075