The term “potash” denotes a variety of mined and manufactured salts, all of which contain the element potassium in water-soluble form. No substitutes exist for potassium as an essential plant nutrient. Further, an expanding global population, changing diets, and decreasing amounts of arable land have increased the need for a constant supply of essential fertilizer minerals such as potash. It is very possible that political, economic, and global population pressures may limit the ability of some countries to secure potash resources in the future, causing many nations around the world to currently consider potash a Critical Resource Mineral (CRM).
Beyond the basics above, what else should we know about potash? Check out the 20 interesting facts below!
- In the early days, the primary source of potash was the ash from native hardwood trees. The basic chemical compound potassium carbonate was extracted by leaching the ashes in big iron pots to dissolve out the soluble components and then evaporating the solution through percolation, which resulted in the production of potash. Potash was used in making fertilizer, glass, soap, gunpowder and dyeing fabrics.
- The name potassium is from the English word ‘potash’, originally meaning an alkali extracted with water in a pot of ash of burned wood or tree leaves.
- As early as 1767, potash from wood ashes was exported from Canada.
- On July 31, 1790, President George Washington signed the first patent ever issued in the United States. It was granted to Samuel Hopkins for a new process and apparatus for making potash, America’s first industrial chemical.
- In 1806, English chemist Sir Humphry Davy discovered that chemical bonding was electrical in nature and that he could use electricity to split substances into their basic building blocks – the chemical elements. In 1807 he isolated potassium for the first time at the Royal Institution, London. Potassium was the first metal to be isolated by electrolysis.
- By 1871, there were 519 asheries in Canada.
- The USDA’s authority was expanded by Congress in 1916 to include the evaluation of commercial potash production methods.
- A large increase in U.S. potash production corresponds with the 1925 discovery and development of potash in the Delaware Basin near Carlsbad, New Mexico.
- In 1943, potash was discovered in Saskatchewan in the process of drilling for oil. Active exploration for potash began in 1951 in Canada.
- In 1958, the Potash Company of America became the first potash producer in Canada.
- Potash production in the United States peaked in 1966. Between 1958 and 1988, a four-fold increase in global production occurred, which corresponded with a two-fold decrease in U.S. production.
- Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan Inc. (PCS) was established on February 4, 1975, by what is called an Order-In-Council of the Canadian Government. Potash Corp is the world’s largest producer of potash and the third largest producer of phosphate.
- Canada, Belarus, and Russia are the largest producers of potash globally. Canada is the world’s largest exporter of potash. In 2017, Canada exported 19 million tonnes of potash, accounting for about 40% of the world’s total exports.
- In May 2018, the U.S. Department of the Interior, in coordination with other executive branch agencies, published a list of 35 critical minerals (83 FR 23295), including potash. This list was developed to serve as an initial focus, pursuant to Executive Order 13817, ‘‘A Federal Strategy to Ensure Secure and Reliable Supplies of Critical Minerals” (82 FR 60835).
- There appears to be little to no potential for development of conventional potash mines (sylvite and carnallite) in either China or India, where the scale of agricultural production required to feed large populations creates high demand for fertilizers. Neither China nor India has significant deposits of potash-bearing salt and their potash demand grew at a rate of 8 percent (double the world average) between 1993 and 2008.
- Potash is primarily used as a fertilizer to support plant growth, increase crop yield and disease resistance, and intensify water preservation. Small quantities of potash are used in the manufacturing of potassium-bearing chemicals such as detergents, ceramics, pharmaceuticals, water conditioners, and alternatives to de-icing salt.
- Fertilizer production also is an environmental concern. For every ton of phosphoric acid produced, five tons of phosphogypsum are generated.
- Potassium is the second least dense metal after lithium.
- Potassium would float on water were it not so reactive. As a result of its extreme reactivity, potassium does not occur as a free element in nature.
- Potassium is the 7th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, accounting for about 2.5% of its mass, and the 8th most abundant element in the human body, accounting for between 0.20% and 0.35% of body mass.
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