Historical and technical developments of potassium resources
The mining of soluble potassium salts (potash) is essential for manufacturing fertilizers required to ensure continuous production of crops and hence global food security. As of 2014, potash is mined predominantly in the northern hemisphere, where large deposits occur. Production tonnage and prices do not take into account the needs of the farmers of the poorest countries. Consequently, soils of some regions of the southern hemisphere are currently being depleted of potassium due to the expansion and intensification of agriculture coupled with the lack of affordable potash. Moving away from mined salts towards locally available resources of potassium, such as K-bearing silicates, could be one option to improve this situation. Overall, the global potash production system and its sustainability warrant discussion. In this contribution we examine the history of potash production, and discuss the different sources and technologies used throughout the centuries. In particular, we highlight the political and economic conditions that favored the development of one specific technology over another. We identified a pattern of needs driving innovation. We show that as needs evolved throughout history, alternatives to soluble salts have been used to obtain K-fertilizers. Those alternatives may meet the incoming needs of our century, providing the regulatory and advisory practices that prevailed in the 20th century are revised.