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Crops that rock without heavy metals

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The Syensqo company, comprising the solutions, activities and markets represented in the article below, was spun off from Solvay group in December 2023.

ACCO-PHOS® 800 enables healthier agriculture

In order to feed our growing population without further ruining our planet’s resources and while preserving the health of consumers, agricultural practices must become more sustainable. Solvay has a few solutions, one of which is a unique molecule that removes toxic heavy metals from fertilizers.

Cadmium and arsenic are recognized as carcinogenic to humans. Making sure these and other heavy metals don’t end up on our plates and in ecosystems is therefore an obvious public health and environmental priority, and it’s why Solvay developed ACCO-PHOS® 800.

The positive impact of sustainable agriculture

Heavy metals find their way into our food through the phosphate used to produce fertilizers. “Phosphate rock is extracted from the ground with certain contaminants naturally present in it, and these contaminants go down the entire value chain,” explains John Carr, Global Technical Director for Alumina & Industrial Minerals at Solvay’s Technology Solutions business unit. “Heavy metals make their way into fertilizers made from phosphoric acid, then into the soil and finally into the crops.” And that’s not all: these metals also find their way into animal feed and, ultimately, into our meat supply. And because agricultural runoff flows into coastal waters, heavy metals accumulate in shellfish, too.

Speaking of runoff, these same contaminants are responsible for events such as red tides in the Gulf of Mexico, algae blooms that cause serious damage to marine wildlife. In other words, in order to protect the health of consumers as well as that of the planet, reducing the amount of heavy metals in fertilizers by removing them during the manufacturing process is definitely a desirable objective. “Individual farmers may not see a direct consequence of using ACCO-PHOS® 800, but if everyone uses it, there will definitely be a positive impact in terms of soil and water pollution,” explains Ryan Zheng, Global Marketing Manager for Alumina & Industrial Minerals at Technology Solutions.

Developing new applications for existing platform technologies is one of our innovation processes!

Global Marketing Manager, Technology Solutions, Solvay

Innovation for healthier food

ACCO-PHOS® 800 is a reagent, a chemical that causes a desired specific reaction, namely binding with and precipitating cadmium, arsenic and other heavy metals so that they can be removed when the phosphate is transformed into phosphoric acid. “We specialize in chemical reagents that help our customers purify their ores to get rid of all sorts of impurities,” continues Ryan. “This is similar in chemistry to molecules that were originally developed for the copper mining industry, but we adapted the technology offering for applications in heavy metal removal. Developing new applications for existing platform technologies is one of our innovation processes!”

At a time when consumer demand for healthier food and environmental protection is getting stronger every day, ACCO-PHOS® 800 is part of Solvay’s range of solutions to contribute to feeding the world in a more sustainable way. On top of that, regulatory pressure on fertilizer manufacturers is increasing as well. “Environmental agencies around the world are worried about heavy metals accumulating in the waste streams of the fertilizer industry, so there is strong demand for our solution,” explains John. “Specifically, EU regulations are driving the market with demand coming from fertilizer manufacturers that have customers in Europe,” adds Ryan.

A unique chemistry

Those in need of a superior solution can turn to Solvay’s unique phosphine-based (PH3)  ACCO-PHOS® reagents. These reagents are commercially produced at Solvay’s advanced phosphine plant in Welland, Canada.  “Welland is a world-leading manufacturing facility capable of synthesizing high-purity phosphine-based chemical derivatives in large, commercial quantities,” says John. “This is technically complex and challenging, and our ability to safely produce these reagents is a differentiator compared to our competitors. Additionally, customers appreciate the product’s relative stability, the flexibility it affords as doses can be adjusted based on heavy metal content, and the minimal capital required to adopt the technology.”

So, next time you sit down for a meal, you might recall how Solvay is improving the food we eat and the ecosystems on which we depend.