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Stereo skeletal formula of phosphate
Aromatic ball and stick model of phosphate Space-filling model of phosphate
CAS number  YesY
ChemSpider  YesY
Beilstein Reference 3903772
Gmelin Reference 1997
Jmol-3D images Image 1
Image 2
Image 3
Molecular formula PO43−
Molar mass 94.9714 g mol−1
Except where noted otherwise, data are given for materials in their standard state (at 25 °C (77 °F), 100 kPa)
 YesY   YesY/N?)

A phosphate (PO43−) as an mined to obtain phosphorus for use in agriculture and industry.[2] At elevated temperatures in the solid state, phosphates can condense to form pyrophosphates.


  • Chemical properties 1
    • Biochemistry of phosphates 1.1
  • Occurrence and mining 2
  • Ecology 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Chemical properties

This is the structural formula of the phosphoric acid functional group as found in weakly acidic aqueous solution. In more basic aqueous solutions, the group donates the two hydrogen atoms and ionizes as a phosphate group with a negative charge of 2. [3]

The phosphate ion is a polyatomic ion with the empirical formula PO43− and a molar mass of 94.97 g/mol. It consists of one central phosphorus atom surrounded by four oxygen atoms in a tetrahedral arrangement. The phosphate ion carries a negative three formal charge and is the conjugate base of the hydrogen phosphate ion, HPO42−, which is the conjugate base of H2PO4, the dihydrogen phosphate ion, which in turn is the conjugate base of H
, phosphoric acid. A phosphate salt forms when a positively charged ion attaches to the negatively charged oxygen atoms of the ion, forming an ionic compound. Many phosphates are not soluble in water at standard temperature and pressure. The sodium, potassium, rubidium, caesium and ammonium phosphates are all water soluble. Most other phosphates are only slightly soluble or are insoluble in water. As a rule, the hydrogen and dihydrogen phosphates are slightly more soluble than the corresponding phosphates. The pyrophosphates are mostly water soluble.

Aqueous phosphate exists in four forms. In strongly basic conditions, the phosphate ion (PO43−) predominates, whereas in weakly basic conditions, the hydrogen phosphate ion (HPO42−) is prevalent. In weakly acid conditions, the dihydrogen phosphate ion (H2PO4) is most common. In strongly acidic conditions, trihydrogen phosphate (H
) is the main form.

More precisely, considering the following three equilibrium reactions:

is in equilibrium with H+ + H2PO4
H2PO4 is in equilibrium with H+ + HPO42−
HPO42− is in equilibrium with H+ + PO43−

the corresponding constants at 25°C (in mol/L) are (see phosphoric acid):

K_{a1}=\frac\simeq 7.5\times10^{-3} (pKa1 2.12)
K_{a2}=\frac}\simeq 6.2\times10^{-8} (pKa2 7.21)
K_{a3}=\frac}}\simeq 2.14\times10^{-13} (pKa3 12.67)

The speciation diagram obtained using these pK values shows three distinct regions. In effect H
, H
and HPO2−
behave as separate weak acids. This is because the successive pK values differ by more than 4. For each acid the pH at half-neutralization is equal to the pK value of the acid. The region in which the acid is in equilibrium with its conjugate base is defined by pH ≈ pK ± 2. Thus the three pH regions are approximately 0–4, 5–9 and 10–14. This is idealized as it assumes constant ionic strength, which will not hold in reality at very low and very high pH values.

For a neutral pH as in the cytosol, pH=7.0

\frac\simeq 7.5\times10^4 \mbox{ , }\frac}\simeq 0.62 \mbox{ , } \frac}}\simeq 2.14\times10^{-6}

so that only H
and HPO2−
ions are present in significant amounts (62% H
, 38% HPO2−
Note that in the extracellular fluid (pH=7.4), this proportion is inverted (61% HPO2−
, 39% H

Phosphate can form many polymeric ions such as diphosphate (also known as pyrophosphate), P
, and triphosphate, P
. The various metaphosphate ions (which are usually long linear polymers) have an empirical formula of PO
and are found in many compounds.

Biochemistry of phosphates

In pH primarily consists of a mixture of HPO2−
and H

Inorganic phosphate can be created by the hydrolysis of pyrophosphate, which is denoted PPi:

+ H2O is in equilibrium with 2 HPO2−

However, phosphates are most commonly found in the form of adenosine phosphates, (high-energy phosphate, as are the phosphagens in muscle tissue. Compounds such as substituted phosphines have uses in organic chemistry but do not seem to have any natural counterparts.

The addition and removal of phosphate from proteins in all cells is a pivotal strategy in the regulation of metabolic processes.

Reference ranges for blood tests, showing inorganic phosphorus in purple at right, being almost identical to the molar concentration of phosphate.

Phosphate is useful in animal cells as a buffering agent. Phosphate salts that are commonly used for preparing buffer solutions at cell pHs include Na2HPO4, NaH2PO4, and the corresponding potassium salts.

An important occurrence of phosphates in biological systems is as the structural material of bone and teeth. These structures are made of crystalline calcium phosphate in the form of hydroxyapatite. The hard dense enamel of mammalian teeth consists of fluoroapatite, an hydroxy calcium phosphate where some of the hydroxyl groups have been replaced by fluoride ions.

Plants uptake phosphorus through several pathways: the arbuscular mycorrhizal pathway and the direct uptake pathway.

Occurrence and mining

Phosphate mine near Flaming Gorge, Utah, 2008.
Train loaded with phosphate rock, Metlaoui, Tunisia, 2012.

Phosphates are the naturally occurring form of the element mined to obtain phosphorus for use in agriculture and industry.[2]

The largest Nauru and its neighbor Banaba Island, which used to have massive phosphate deposits of the best quality, have been mined excessively. Rock phosphate can also be found in Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Navassa Island, Tunisia, Togo and Jordan, countries that have large phosphate mining industries.

Phosphorite mines are primarily found in:

In 2007, at the current rate of consumption, the supply of phosphorus was estimated to run out in 345 years.[4] However, some scientists believed that a "peak phosphorus" will occur in 30 years and Dana Cordell from Institute for Sustainable Futures said in Times that at "current rates, reserves will be depleted in the next 50 to 100 years."[5] Reserves refer to the amount assumed recoverable at current market prices, and, in 2012, the USGS estimated 71 billion tons of world reserves, while 0.19 billion tons were mined globally in 2011.[6] Phosphorus comprises 0.1% by mass of the average rock[7] (while, for perspective, its typical concentration in vegetation is 0.03% to 0.2%),[8] and consequently there are quadrillions of tons of phosphorus in Earth's 3 * 1019 ton crust,[9] albeit at predominantly lower concentration than the deposits counted as reserves from being inventoried and cheaper to extract.

Some phosphate rock deposits are notable for their inclusion of significant quantities of radioactive uranium isotopes. This syndrome is noteworthy because radioactivity can be released into surface waters[10] in the process of application of the resultant phosphate fertilizer (e.g. in many tobacco farming operations in the southeast US).

In December 2012 Cominco Resources announced an updated JORC compliant resource of their Hinda project in Congo-Brazzaville of 531Mt making it the largest measured and indicated phosphate deposit in the world.[11]


Sea surface phosphate from the World Ocean Atlas.
Relationship of Phosphate to Nitrate Uptake for photosynthesis in various regions of the ocean. Note that nitrate is more often limiting than phosphate. See the Redfield ratio

In ecological terms, because of its important role in biological systems, phosphate is a highly sought after resource. Once used, it is often a limiting nutrient in eutrophication) can occur. In the context of pollution, phosphates are one component of total dissolved solids, a major indicator of water quality, but not all phosphorus is in a molecular form which algae can break down and consume.[12]

Calcium hydroxyapatite and calcite precipitates can be found around bacteria in alluvial topsoil.[13] As clay minerals promote biomineralization, the presence of bacteria and clay minerals resulted in calcium hydroxyapatite and calcite precipitates.[13]

Phosphate deposits can contain significant amounts of naturally occurring heavy metals. Mining operations processing phosphate rock can leave tailings piles containing elevated levels of cadmium, lead, nickel, copper, chromium, and uranium. Unless carefully managed, these waste products can leach heavy metals into groundwater or nearby estuaries. Uptake of these substances by plants and marine life can lead to concentration of toxic heavy metals in food products.[14]

In Germany, the use of uranium-contaminated standard phosphate fertilizers in farming has been linked to significantly raised uranium levels in drinking water.[15] In some areas, it has led to recommendations to use bottled water, instead of tap water, to prepare food for babies and small children.

See also


  1. ^ "Phosphates – PubChem Public Chemical Database". The PubChem Project. USA: National Center of Biotechnology Information. 
  2. ^ a b "Phosphate Primer". 
  3. ^  
  4. ^ "How Long Will it Last?".  
  5. ^ Leo Lewis (2008-06-23). "Scientists warn of lack of vital phosphorus as biofuels raise demand". The Times. 
  6. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Phosphate Rock
  7. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Phosphorus Soil Samples
  8. ^ Floor Anthoni. "Abundance of Elements". Retrieved 2013-01-10. 
  9. ^ American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2007, abstract #V33A-1161. Mass and Composition of the Continental Crust
  10. ^ C.Michael Hogan. 2010. "Water pollution". Encyclopedia of Earth. eds. Mark McGinley and C. Cleveland. National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington DC.
  11. ^ "Updated Hinda Resource Announcement: Now world’s largest phosphate deposit (04/12/2012)".  
  12. ^ Hochanadel, Dave (December 10, 2010). "Limited amount of total phosphorus actually feeds algae, study finds". Lake Scientist. Retrieved June 10, 2012. [B]ioavailable phosphorus – phosphorus that can be utilized by plants and bacteria – is only a fraction of the total, according to Michael Brett, a UW engineering professor ... 
  13. ^ a b Schmittner KE, Giresse P (1999). "Micro-environmental controls on biomineralization: superficial processes of apatite and calcite precipitation in Quaternary soils, Roussillon, France". Sedimentology 46 (3): 463–76.  
  14. ^ Gnandil, K.; Tchangbedjil, G.; Killil, K.; Babal, G.; Abbel, E. (March 2006). "The Impact of Phosphate Mine Tailings on the Bioaccumulation of Heavy Metals in Marine Fish and Crustaceans from the Coastal Zone of Togo". Mine Water and the Environment 25 (1): 56–62.  
  15. ^ "Hintergründe: Uran im Dünger". Retrieved 2013-01-10. 

External links

  • US Minerals Databrowser provides data graphics covering consumption, production, imports, exports and price for phosphate and 86 other minerals
  • Taking Stock of Phosphorus and Biofuels, global phosphate mining, use and shortages.
  • Phosphate at Lab Tests Online
  • Phosphate: analyte monograph - The Association for Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine
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