The role of Chemicals in our daily life: The Phosphorus element – feeding the world and beyond

Apr 3, 2023

📍Location: European Parliament, Brussels, Belgium

🗓️ Date: 25 May 2023

This webinar is part of a series where we focus on various aspects of individual chemical elements and is a result of our EuChemS Periodic Table highlighting element availability and vulnerability. 

Phosphorus is a key component of our bodies applied to crops using phosphate fertilisers. Phosphate rock is a finite resource. Many reserves are likely to be exhausted before the end of this century with serious consequences for the exponentially growing and often malnourished global population.

Poor farming practices lead to a build-up of phosphorus in agricultural soils in arable lands and large flows of phosphorus to surface water, causing eutrophication (algal blooms) in aquatic ecosystems. Reduced use and recycling of phosphorus from agricultural runoff could be ways to reduce the environmental impact on water resources. In addition, the recovery of phosphorus from wastewater and sewage sludge, could provide a contribution to a circular economy of this essential element.


The purpose of the webinar was to answer key questions such as:

  • Can fertilizers and the application of fertilizers be improved? 
  • Can phosphorus be efficiently recovered and recycled from agricultural runoff, sewage sludge, industrial waste, etc? 
  • Is there a need for a legislation on mandatory phosphorus recovery from sewage sludge in Europe and worldwide? 
  • Can a circular economy be developed for phosphorus and can we promote the sustainable use of this essential element?

Other applications of phosphorus that were be discussed will include fire retardants, detergents, applications in catalysis and chemical processes, steel and materials.


Programme and Speakers

Morning session: European Parliament, Room A5F 385, 10:00 – 12:00

10:00 – 10:25 | Opening by MEP Maria Spyraki and EuChemS President Floris Rutjes & introductory remarks by Evamarie Hey-Hawkins, Leipzig University

10:25 – 10:45 | The EuChemS Periodic Table by Nicola Armaroli, CNR

10:45 – 11:05 | An introduction to the Planetary Boundary Framework from a chemistry point of view by Alessandra Quadrelli, CNRS

11:05 – 11:25 | Phosphorus in EU policies and as a Critical/Strategic Raw material by Robert van Spingelen, European Sustainable Phosphorus Platform

11:25 – 12:00 | Panel Discussion led by Evamarie Hey-Hawkins

Afternoon session: Online, 14:00-16:30

14:00 – 14:20 | From phosphorus vulnerability to security: sustainability dimensions and challenges for food security by Dana Cordell, University of Technology Sydney

14:20 – 14:40 | Peak phosphate – fallacy or fatal? by Chris Lawson, CRU Group

14:40 – 15:00 | Sustaining the CHNOPS elements of life, but Phosphorus first! by J. Chris Slootweg, University of Amsterdam

15:00 – 15:20 |Producing phosphoric acid from sewage sludge ash: The REMONDIS TetraPhos® process by
Andreas Rak, REMONDIS Aqua

15:20 – 15:40  | A blueprint for a modern sustainable phosphorus chemistry by Jan J. Weigand, TU University Dresden

15:40 – 16:25 | Panel Discussion led by Floris Rutjes

16:25 – 16:30 | Conclusions by Evamarie Hey-Hawkins

MEP Maria Spyraki (Chair)

Maria Spyraki is serving her second mandate in the European Parliament with Nea Demokratia party – European People’s Party (EPP), as a full member of the Committees Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI) and Industry, Research, and Energy (ITRE). She is also a co-chair of the Intergroup on Climate change, biodiversity and sustainable development.

She holds the rapporteurship, on behalf of the the European Parliament, for the revision of the CLP Regulation. She was 1st author on the Motion for Resolution on Chemicals Strategy for Sustainability. She has been rapporteur/shadow rapporteur of 12 Reports, Opinions and Motions for Resolutions on behalf of ENVI and ITRE. These include, amongst others, the Report on the strategy to reduce methane emissions (which became a global pledge at COP26), the Opinion on maximising the energy efficiency potential of the EU’s building stock and the Opinion on the Regulation establishing a framework for setting ecodesign requirements for sustainable products. She is currently shadow rapporteur on numerous opinions relevant to “FIT for 55”.

Her first degree is in Chemistry from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. She holds an MSc in Energy Law, Business, Regulation and Policy from International Hellenic University, Greece. She worked for 22 years as a journalist until 2014, when she was elected MEP.

You can learn more about her parliamentary activities here.

Evamarie Hey-Hawkins (Scientific Chair)

Evamarie Hey-Hawkins has been a Professor of Inorganic Chemistry (Chair) at Leipzig University, Germany, since 1993. She received her diploma and doctoral degree at the University of Marburg, Germany. She is a member of the German Chemical Society (GDCh) since 1983, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC) since 1999 and member of two European Academy of Sciences (EurASc and EASA) among other memberships. She has received several awards in recognition of her work, among them the degree of “Distinguished Woman in Chemistry and Chemical Engineering” by IUPAC (in 2013), two honorary doctoral degrees (Dr. h.c.), the Order of Merit of the Free State of Saxony (2017) and the Karl-Ziegler Prize (2021).

Her scientific interests are in the field of phosphorus chemistry, biologically active boron compounds, heterometallic transition metal complexes and catalysis.

Presently, she is the vice president of the German Society on Boron Neutron Capture Therapy and Chair of the Working Group on Phosphorus Chemistry under the umbrella of the German Chemical Society (GDCh).

Floris Rutjes (EuChemS President)

Floris Rutjes received his PhD at the University of Amsterdam in 1993 under the supervision of the late Prof. Speckamp. After a post-doctoral stay with Prof. Nicolaou at The Scripps Research Institute (La Jolla, USA) and an assistant-professorship at the University of Amsterdam, he became full professor in organic synthesis at Radboud University (Nijmegen, NL) in 1999. His research interests comprise the synthesis of biologically active heterocyclic molecules, new bioorthogonal click-probes for chemical ligation, and continuous flow synthesis in microreactors. He has received several awards including the Gold Medal of the Royal Netherlands Chemical Society (2002), the AstraZeneca Award for Research in Organic Chemistry (2003), and in 2008 was announced ‘Most entrepreneurial scientist of the Netherlands’. Currently, he is Director of the Institute for Molecules and Materials at Radboud University and president of the European Chemical Society (EuChemS)

Nicola Armaroli

Nicola Armaroli got the Ph.D. in Chemical Sciences in 1994 at the University of Bologna. Since 2007 he has been Research Director at CNR, the Italian National Research Council. He is member of the Italian National Academy of Sciences and Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC). Within EuChemS, he is an elected member of the Executive Board and a former chairman of the Working Party on Chemistry and Energy  He serves as associate editor of Photochemical & Photobiological Sciences (Springer Nature), member of the Editorial Board of Chemistry-A European Journal (Wiley-VCH) and Polyhedron (Elsevier Science) as well as director of Sapere, the first Italian science periodical, established in 1935.

His scientific activity is concerned with photochemistry and photophysics, in particular luminescent materials and systems for the conversion of light into electricity and fuels. He also studies the transition of the global energy system towards more sustainable models, also in relation to climate change and scarcity of natural resources.

He has received several awards as a recognition of his work.

Dana Cordell

Associate Professor Dana Cordell is a Research Director of Food Systems at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney. She leads and undertakes international and national research projects on sustainable food and phosphorus futures in Europe, Australia, Vietnam, Malawi, Sri Lanka, and the U.S. In 2008, she co-founded the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative – the first global platform to undertake research, policy and public engagement to ensure food systems are resilient to the emerging global challenge of phosphorus scarcity. Many projects involve high-level stakeholder engagement to improve impact and foster mutual learning, such as the multi-partner RePhoKUs project, where she co-led the development of the UK’s first comprehensive Phosphorus Transformation Strategy. As a global food security expert, she provides expert advice and commentary to UNEP, UK Parliament and Australia’s Chief Scientist. She most recently joined UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook team as a global food security contributor. Her research contributions have led to numerous prestigious recognitions including one of Australia’s top science prizes, the Eureka Prize for Environmental Research (2012) and a position in the 100 Women of Influence (AFR/Westpac, 2013). She is frequently interviewed for media, including BBC, ABC Lateline and London’s The Times.

Dan Egan

Dan Egan is the author of New York Times bestseller The Death and Life of the Great Lakes as well as The Devil’s Element: phosphorus and a world out of balance, both published by WW Norton. A journalist in residence at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences, he is a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with his wife and children.

Chris Lawson

Chris Lawson is Head of Fertilizers at CRU Group, leading a global and market leading team of 30 analysts and reporters. He oversees the Fertilizers business unit and is responsible for the full portfolio of fertilizer pricing, market outlook and cost/emissions services. He regularly speaks at conferences and client events on fertilizers, agriculture and the energy transition.  Prior to his current role, Chris was Head of Phosphates and the team fertilizer demand analyst/agricultural economist. He joined CRU in 2014. He has a background in agriculture and holds a Bachelor of Science (Agricultural Science) from the University of Adelaide. He is based in New York City. 

Alessandra Quadrelli

Alessandra Quadrelli is director of research in chemistry from the French National Centre for Scientific Research, CNRS, at the IRCELYON laboratories.  Her research focuses on organometallic mechanisms on surfaces en route to renewable energy storage through CO2 our N2 utilization. Concurrently, Alessandra is exploring transdisciplinary definition of sustainable chemistry through the concept of “Situated Green Chemistries” that merges elements from chemistry, from the planetary limits systemic framework  and from social sciences. Alessandra serves as associate editor of the RSC journal “Green Chemistry” since 2017.

Andreas Rak

Andreas Rak completed a Master’s Degree in in water-, wastewater technology and circular economy. In 2003, he became a plant manager at SARIA Bioindustries, specialising in bones and fat recovery, and in 2008, he worked as area sales manager for environmental technologies at GEA. Since 2014 he works in development of REMONDIS TetraPhos process at REMONDIS Aqua, and as Managing Director of REMONDIS TetraPhos GmbH.

J. Chris Slootweg

Chris Slootweg was born in Haarlem (The Netherlands) in 1978 and received his undergraduate education from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam in 2001, with research stays at the University of Amsterdam (Prof. Piet van Leeuwen) and University of Sussex (Prof. Michael Lappert). After earning his PhD in 2005 under the supervision of Prof. Koop Lammertsma, he pursued postdoctoral studies at the ETH Zürich with Peter Chen. He started his independent scientific career in 2006 at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 2014 and moved to the University of Amsterdam in 2016. The mission of his laboratory is to educate students at the intersection of fundamental physical organic chemistry, main-group chemistry, and circular chemistry. Chris is co-founder and scientific advisor of SusPhos BV, a pioneering company focused on upcycling phosphate-rich waste streams to generate high-quality alternatives to replace current fossil-sourced products.

Robert van Spingelen

Robert is president of the platform organization ESPP, promoting the implementation of sustainable phosphorus and nitrogen management practices in Europe, in particular phosphorus and nitrogen recycling. ESPP is a non-profit organisation funded by members, which acts through stakeholder and industry dialogue, networking, information dissemination and elaboration of joint proposals to policy makers. Platform’s members bring together a range of different industries (water & waste companies, mineral & organic fertilisers, chemicals, recycling technologies), knowledge institutes and public establishments.

Robert has a background as agronomist and been working in the plant nutrient industry since 1999, starting as international sales manager (Scandinavia / Middle East / Africa / Japan), moved to a global marketing and category manager role were he developed and marketed specialty fertilizer formulations for the ICL Group. In 2019 he moved to a consultancy company called RecyFert, focusing on valorisation of organic “waste” streams into fertilizers.

RecyFert has been working with OSTARA Nutrient Recovery Technologies, acting as a Regulatory Affairs Manager to obtain an CE registration for Europe for Ostara’s Chrystal Green branded struvite product. Furthermore, RecyFert works with several biogas start-up companies marketing and designing their organo-mineral fertilizer range and compost alternatives in Europe and England.

Jan J. Weigand

Jan J. Weigand obtained his Dr. rer nat. 2005 from the LMU in Munich. After the Bavarian culture prize 2005 he obtained a Lynen Scholarship from the AvH foundation for postdoctoral research (Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada). With a “Lynen Return Fellowship” started his independent research at WWU Münster (2007). Shortly after, he was awarded the Liebig scholarship of the FCI which and in April 2010 he became fellow of the very prestigious Emmy Noether research program awarded by the DFG and obtained the Wöhler research award for young scientist. In July 2012 he received an “ERC starting grant” and since 2013, he is Professor at the TU University Dresden and is currently holds the Chair of Inorganic Molecular Chemistry. One of his main research interests is the development of new and sustainable synthesis routes to novel cationic and neutral phosphorus compounds and their use in synthetic applications of fundamental and industrial relevance. Furthermore, the group is involved in “solvent extractions”, novel recycling strategies and technical chemistry applications.


Find out more about the EuChemS Periodic Table depicting element scarcity here.

In 2019, we issued the periodic table of the endangered elements, in an effort to raise society’s awareness of the limited mineral resources available on Earth. It has received remarkable attention worldwide from the scientific community, the general public and governmental agencies and has been widely distributed in European secondary schools. This table is a living document, to be periodically updated in the light of developments that may affect the availability of specific elements or the sustainability of the fundamental cycles connected to them, addressing responsible sourcing, usage and environmental footprint within our world.

In this context, EuChemS promotes discussion between the scientific, industrial and political communities to evaluate whether the colour codes of specific elements associated with availability and sustainability should be reconsidered. After revisiting carbon, a key element towards a sustainable society, lithium, enabler of the energy transition, and nitrogen, a key nutrient element, we now highlight the element phosphorus.