Phosphorus industry and phosphorus use innovation: summary of the 4th International Symposium on Innovation and Technology in the Phosphate Industry - SYMPHOS

The 4th International Symposium on Innovation and Technology in the Phosphate Industry SYMPHOS was organized by OCP ( at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Benguerir, Morocco. About 1000 international delegates attended the dense conference program and an exhibition showcasing the current solutions of major suppliers of the phosphate industry.

This summary of the workshops and parallel sessions, prepared by Ludwig Hermann is necessarily selective – only a selected number of workshops and sessions could be attended.


During the 3 days of this fourth edition of SYMPHOS, a large number of international suppliers and phosphate solution providers gave an overview of the state-of-the-art mining and processing technologies. OCP confirmed its leading role as a global phosphate industry with an increasing engagement in improving access to and use of fertilizers in African agriculture. Participants also enjoyed a thrilling gala dinner with an exuberant entertainment program of Moroccan and African musicians.

The program was organized in 7 plenary sessions, 4 workshops and 4-5 parallel sessions of 3-4 presentations. The workshops focused on 4 thematic fields, namely “Industrial maintenance” (1), Sulfuric acid” (2), “Cadmium” (3) and “Industrial management” (4). The thematic sessions dealt with “Slurry pipe”, “Mining”, “Agriculture”, “P-sustainability”, “Energy”, ”Biotechnology”, “Phosphoric acid”, “Beneficiation”, “Valuable trace elements”, “Material / corrosion”, “Industrial maintenance”, “Industrial technology”, “New phosphated materials”, “Fertilizers”, “By-products”, “Industrial technology”, “Water” and “Soils management”.

The conference started with Plenary 1 by Seeram Ramakrishna (National University of Singapore) with the very general presentation “Innovation for Sustainability” dealing with the nexus of innovation, sustainability and economic opportunities in manufacturing, energy, water, materials, transportation, mining, agriculture and food packaging sectors that many attendants perceived as “out of scope”.

Fertiliser innovation

Presentations of the agriculture sessions focused on access to fertilizers and their use efficiency in Africa including the need for site-specific, individual formulation of primary, secondary and trace nutrients to cope with the widespread nutrient depletion and the subsequent low crop yields. However, a number of, partly industry (OCP) supported, organizations have been established to improve the situation in Africa. The beneficiation session was predominantly dealing with flotation and chemicals to improve selectivity. In the trace element session a number of scientists discussed different approaches to the recovery of rare earth elements (REE).

In Plenary 4, “Exploiting the potential role of fertilisers in increasing food production in developing countries”, Tekalign Mamo (Center for Soil and Fertilizer Research in Africa CESFRA, Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, Morocco) discussed the still increasing level of food insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), taking into account climate change. In an effort to abate this problem, the CESFRA center that has prioritized to work in Africa to help farmers customize their fertilizers was launched at Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, aiming at reducing poverty in SSA and facilitate farmers’ access to fertilizers.

In Plenary 2, Bruce Rittmann (Arizona State University) described in “Using biotechnology to make phosphate fertilizer more sustainable” two possible approaches based on microbial biotechnology (microalgae and nitrifying bacteria) aimed at preventing the precipitation of phosphate into mineral forms that are poorly available to plants. The first takes advantage of the ability of microalgae to rapidly adsorb large amounts of phosphate, which is then readily available for plant use. The second involves fortifying the fertilizer with nitrifying bacteria, whose metabolism naturally produces acids that lower pH and minimize transformation in soil of fertiliser phosphorus into mineral forms. The author claims that making the P more available would lower the application rate and so the risk of P loss to run-off.

In Plenary 6 “REACH legislation and how it affects fertilizer products innovation” France based researchers Juan Gonzalez-Leon (Centre de Recherche Rhône-Alpes ARKEMA CRRA), F. Chittaro and Nadège Guerault (CECA, La Garenne-Colombes) discussed the REACH legislation and its impacts on fertilizer products innovation.

Debisi Araba (International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) – Regional office for Africa, Nairobi) discussed in Plenary 7, “Leveraging the combined powers of science and entrepreneurship in African agricultural transformation” the potential for enhancing and sustaining the productivity of specific farming systems through more efficient use of inputs and natural resources, helping to identify improved management practices for specific conditions, with the aim of curbing soil degradation. Renewed cooperation between research institutions and private entrepreneurs, at all levels and from boardrooms and laboratories, to the agro-dealers and farms, focusing at 4 areas is proposed: i) profiling soil fertility, ii) digital soil mapping in key countries, iii) fertilizer recommendations and on-farm field trials and iv) capacity building.


The phosphorus sustainability session was also scheduled for the first afternoon and equally well attended. Christian Kabbe (Berlin Centre of Competence for Water) presented the current state of P-recovery activities in “Circular Economy – Challenges and Opportunities for Phosphorus Recovery & Recycling from Wastes in Europe”, Tom Bruulsema (IPNI, Canada) presented “Industry Initiatives Enhancing Phosphorus Sustainability” and Ludwig Hermann (Outotec and ESPP) presented “Mining, Processing and Using Phosphates in a Circular Economy” focusing on the framework provided by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, the Paris Agreement (COP21) and the Circular Economy Package of the European Commission and the opportunities for improving the sustainability of phosphate mining and processing by partly proven, partly novel technology approaches.

Three different approaches for decadmiation were presented in the Cadmium Workshop, from cadmium precipitation with an organic additive (Solvay’s ACCOPHOS®) through thermal decadmiation (Outotec) to solubilizing phosphates with silicates and thus stabilizing cadmium while making the trace nutrient zinc plant available (Russian Academy of Science, Institute of Basic Biological Problems). Both workshops attracted a large number of attendants.



Energy applications of phosphorus chemistry

The energy session was partly dealing with phosphate use in batteries. It also included one very interesting presentation by Lars Amsbeck (DLR Institute of Solar Research, Germany) about solar sludge drying and thermal beneficiation by using concentrated solar power (CSP), a combination of heliostats and a receiver to produce and store processing heat (up to 1000°C) through selected solid heat carriers. This approach, allegedly already competitive with liquid fossil fuels, could have a high CO2 saving potential in countries with high solar radiation intensity like Morocco.

In Plenary 3, “High energy and high power electrodes for automotive battery applications” Khalil Amine (Argonne National Laboratory, Lemont, USA, and Mohammed VI Polytechnic University, Morocco) discussed strategies to increase the energy density of LiFePO4 and LiMn1-xFexPO4 cathodes without compromising their power capabilities.

Phosphate industry innovations

Industrial maintenance was the most popular thematic field with one workshop and numerous presentations covering operations and maintenance of phosphate mining and processing. It included case studies of simulation based engineering (Andritz), case studies of incidents, lean production processes (OCP) and spare parts management (Thyssenkrupp Industrial Solutions). With regard to materials handling and processing, bulk handling systems as well as screening, grinding, pumping, dewatering and prilling solutions were presented alongside with simulation and digitalization options.

The Sulfuric Acid Workshop dealt with debottlenecking (Outotec), in-situ differential scanning calorimetry (DSC) for sulfuric acid catalyst development (MECS Europe/Africa), energy efficiency improvements by making Clean Water (Jacobs Engineering, USA) and full energy recovery by converting heat from sulfur combustion to high and low pressure steam (HEROS™ by Outotec) as well as emission abatement (Outotec).

Pascal du Bois d’Enghien and Youssef Riahi (MECS Europe/Africa) presented in Plenary 5, “Replacement and maintenance strategy”, corrosion resistant stainless steel alloys for sulfuric acid plants.

The slurry pipe session Monday afternoon dealt, among others, with the adoption of the eight 500 tpd P2O5 phosphoric acid plants in Jorf Lasfar to feeding wet phosphate slurry by the new pipeline (capacity 38 Mt/year) connecting the Kouribga mine to Jorf Lasfar. At the same time, the phosphoric acid production is concentrated in 4 new plants, each with a capacity of 1350 tpd P2O5, increasing the total daily capacity from 4000 to 5400 tons. This project allows reaching an increased availability and other improvements such as the reduction of fluorine emissions with a rate of less than 5 mg/Nm3 and improving the chemical efficiency to around 95%. Digitalization and automation was in the focus of presentations in the mining session.

During the phosphoric acid session presenters discussed process options, in particular hemi- vs. dehydrate for increasing the plant capacity during a revamp of phosphoric acid plant (John Wing, Phosacid). Hannu Laitala (Outotec) described the company’s acid purification approach based on solvent extraction. In addition plant design and digitalization was on the agenda of different sessions as well as fluorine recovery and use, among others by Hadrien Leruth (Prayon). SNC-Lavalin and Prayon also presented “A Phosphoric Acid Process Simulator for Knowledge Transfer”.




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