Monday, February 24, 2014

Phosphate World and Patent World. Sir John Bennet Lawes, Father of Fertilizer!

Check out the post at our sister blog Phosphate World.

This blog talks about the phosphate industry in Florida and the nice resort being built out of the rubble of past Phosphate mines over in the Tampa Bay area. That actually is pretty cool, but the point that phosphate fertilizer from mines is non-sustainable, and consequently is a broken business model. Peak Phosphate in the world could arrive by 2030.

Innovation in preserving and recycling phosphate is critical. More sustainable uses of fertilizer is essential and a responsible way forward.

But this blog looks at one of the key patents and technological breakthroughs that built the phosphate industry -- and consequently, modern farming as we know it.

Sir John Bennet Lawes is credited as the father of artificial fertilizer. He developed what is referred to as the superphospate fertilizer.... (Many politicians can make such a super fertilizer, only without the patented processes.)

The inherited owner of the Rothamsted Manor in England, John Bennet Lawes, is credited with inventing the process for extracting useful phosphate from phosphate rock using sulfuric acid. In 1842 he obtained a patent on the process. (This must be only a UK patent since it seems hard to find in the USPTO.)

Britannica had this to say about Sir John.
"Lawes inherited his father’s estate, Rothamsted, in 1822. In 1842, after long experimentation with the effects of manures on potted plants and field crops on his estate, he patented a process for treating phosphate rock with sulfuric acid to produce superphosphate. That year he opened the first fertilizer factory, thus initiating the artificial fertilizer industry. The following year, the chemist J.H. (later Sir Henry) Gilbert joined him, and they began a collaboration lasting more than a half century; Lawes considered 1843 the year of the station’s foundation. Together, the pair studied the effects of different fertilizers on crops. They also researched animal nutrition, including the value of different fodders and the sources of animal fat."

There are several patents/applications within the last few years related to phosphate (fertilizer). Check out this one, first filed in China, related to extracting phosphate from low-grade rock using a microbial strain.

And, of course, virtually all GMO seeds/plants are patented -- Monsanto, Dupont, a university, etc. 

Here's a longer look at Sir John's life history from Oxford's DB.  The Rothamsted Research center is still active today, including GMO research.  

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