The Origins of Potash
Potassium is one of the most
abundant elements occurring in the earth's crust, ranked seventh among the
naturally occurring elements. Potassium naturally forms salt compounds, which
usually consist of either potassium chloride or potassium carbonate that are
known as potash.
The term "potash” originated
from the old method of separating potassium salts from trees by burning and
other leaching methods. The white ash that remained was called pot-ash. Over
time potash became the term used to describe all types of potassium salts,
obtained by leaching methods and by potash mining. Potash is obtained almost
exclusively through potash mining these days due to the large deposits that
have been discovered in the earth's crust.
Canada is currently the largest producer of potash in the
world. As a result there are numerous potash exploration and potash mining
companies originating in Canada. Some of these larger potash companies are also
developing potash projects in other countries such as Africa due to the large
deposits found there.
Uses of Potash
Early uses of potash included
such things as bleaching textiles, making glass and making different forms of
Potash is now most commonly used
along with phosphate and nitrogen for fertilizer. With the recent agricultural
push worldwide, fertilizer is becoming more important than ever and demand is
soaring. Up to 95% of the potash produced in the world is for fertilizer use.
Global demand for food and animal feed is growing rapidly as the population
expands and global crops need to be increased to meet the needs. Potash based
fertilizers have been shown to have the following positive influences on crops:
Improved water transport and
Improved taste in fruits and
Improved protection from
extreme temperatures and drought
Strengthened roots and stems
Improved resistance to disease,
weeds and insects
With all of the positives these
fertilizers bring to crops and the only negative being the increased cost of
potash, it is easy to see why the demand for potash is currently high and is
expected to grow in the future.
The crops that use the most
fertilizer in the world are:
Fruits and Vegetables
Potash is still used in the production of ceramics, glass, pottery
and soaps. The mineral properties of potash also make a very good water
softener. The health concerns over sodium intake have also led to potash
becoming an alternative to table salt.
A Bright Future
The growing population
throughout the world will continue to be the driving force behind the potash
industry with increased reliance on stronger crops that use less agricultural
The move to use less crude oil
fuels is also expected to elevate the need for corn based crops. Corn is the
basis of ethanol, an increasingly viable option to petroleum based fuels.
Canada is poised to continue to be the biggest global
producer of potash due to large deposits and reliable infrastructure solidly in
place. Ethiopia is positioned to become a large producer with its strong
economic growth and Canadian potash company interest.