Dimensions of Phosphorus Sustainability: Phosphorus Flows in a Rapidly Growing City and Field Tests of Potential Agricultural Prototypes

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Phosphorus (P) is a limiting nutrient in ecosystems and is mainly used as fertilizer to grow food. The demand for P is increasing due to the need for increased food

Phosphorus (P) is a limiting nutrient in ecosystems and is mainly used as fertilizer to grow food. The demand for P is increasing due to the need for increased food supply to support a growing population. However, P is obtained from phosphate rock, a finite resource that takes millions of years to form. These phosphate rock deposits are found in only a few countries. This uneven distribution of phosphate rock leads to a potential imbalance in socio-economic systems, generating food security pressure due to unaffordability of P fertilizer. Thus, the first P-sustainability concern is a stable supply of affordable P fertilizer for agriculture. In addition, improper management of P from field to fork leaves an open end in the global P cycle that results in widespread water pollution. This eutrophication leads to toxic algal blooms and hypoxic “dead zones”. Thus, the second P-sustainability concern involves P pollution from agriculture and cities. This thesis focuses on P flows in a city (Macau as a case study) and on potential strategies for improvements of sustainable P management in city and agriculture. Chapter 2 showed a P-substance-flow analysis for Macau from 1998-2016. Macau is a city with a unique economy build on tourism. The major P flows into Macau were from food, detergent, and sand (for land reclamation). P recovery from wastewater treatment could enhance Macau’s overall P sustainability if the recovered P could be directed towards replacing mined P used to produce food. Chapters 3 and 4 tested a combination of P sustainability management tactics including recycling P from cities and enhancing P-use efficiency (PUE) in agriculture. Algae and biosolids were used as recycled-P fertilizers, and genetically transformed lettuce was used as the a PUE-enhanced crop. This P sustainable system was compared to the conventional agricultural system using commercial fertilizer and the wild type lettuce. Chapters 3 and 4 showed that trying to combine a PUE-enhancement strategy with P recycling did not work well, although organic fertilizers like algae and biosolids may be more beneficial as part of longer-term agricultural practices. This would be a good area for future research.