US$1 Billion in potential revenue.

Worldwide, more than 100 Mt/a of phosphate rock is processed into phosphoric acid as an intermediate step in the manufacture of phosphate based fertilizer products.

It is estimated that the phosphoric acid produced contains 20 Mlb/a of recoverable uranium, equivalent to approximately US$1 billion in potential revenue. This uranium is currently not recovered and therefore comprises a significant unexploited resource.

Worldwide Phosphate Processing
The major phosphate based fertilizer producers are located in northern Africa, North America and Asia.

The uranium contained in the phosphoric acid ultimately reports either to the phosphate fertilizer products, which include MAP, DAP and Superphosphate, or to the gypsum by-product, depending on the reactor design. Consequently this valuable secondary source of uranium is wasted; approximately US$1 billion in lost revenue.

Phosphoric acid derived from marine phosphorites which account for an estimated 80% of the world output of phosphate based fertilizer products3  comprise a relatively uniform uranium concentration, ranging from 60-120 ppm U3O84  . The low ore grade of phosphorite deposits precludes their being economically viable for recovery of only uranium; uranium is only economically recoverable as a by-product and dependant on the strength of the phosphate market. The largest sedimentary marine phosphorite deposits are found in northern Africa, China, the Middle East, and the United States5.

Historically, uranium production from phosphoric acid peaked at over 5 Mlb U3O8 per annum during 1978 1983. Worldwide uranium production from phosphoric acid ceased in the late 1990s as a consequence of high operating costs and falling (low) uranium prices.

3 IAEA (2001), Analysis of Uranium Supply to 2050, IAEA-SM-362/2, Vienna, Austria
4 EPRI (1980) U3O8 Production Analysis for Nonsandstone Uranium Deposits, EPRI EA-733
5 Jasinski (2009) USGS Mineral Commodity Summaries 2009 Phosphate Rock p120, USA