Quick guide to potash

What is it?

A basic resource

Potash is the most common natural source of potassium and the term is often used to refer to the types of fertilizers that contain this element.

Potassium (K) is a key element in the development and growth of plants because its assists water retention, reinforces the roots and cell walls, improving the transfer of nutrients and increasing resistance to disease and infestation, insects and variations of temperature. It is sometimes called the “regulator” due to its participation in over 60 enzyme systems that influence crop quality.

What is it used for?

The potassium in potash is one of the three most important components of commercial soluble fertilizers and is usually found combined with nitrogen and phosphorous compounds.

These fertilizers, known as NPK, are very effective in improving the performance of land which by its very nature does not have the ideal characteristics for staple crops.

How potash affects the potassium in a plant

  • In photosynthesis it acts on the chloroplasts and indirectly helps respiratory control of the plants (stomas)
  • It activates more than 60 enzymes to improve the metabolic process
  • It improves water storage capacity which considerable reduces drought-induced stress
  • It helps in the formation of carbohydrates and their storage
  • It favours the internal quality of the product as it permits greater concentration of vitamins and proteins
  • It acts favourably on organic anions
  • It increases the supporting tissue, avoiding the propensity for certain diseases or parasites
  • It increases the resistance of plants to frost

Who needs it?

Potash is used to nourish the soil. Farmers have the challenge of retaining the necessary nutrients in soil that they regularly cultivate and which, over time, loses its nutrients. In addition, there is poor quality land that need this type of fertilizer to boost its capacity and ensure the necessary properties to deliver an optimal crop.

 

How to detect lack of Potassium?

  • Old leaves display greater mobility in the phloem
  • The plant in general becomes flaccid
  • The leaves become yellow around the edges
  • If the lack of potassium is very advanced there may be intercostal necrosis on the tips and borders of the leaves
  • The growth of the plant is slow
  • In fruit trees, the leaves are small and attached to the branches
  • In cereals, there is a reduction in the formation and accumulation of cellulose and lignin in cell membranes
  • Plants are more prone to fungal infections

How is it extracted?

There are various methods for extracting potassium bearing salts.

Underground mining or dissolution mining (sometimes referred to as in-situ leaching) or recovery from naturally occurring brines.

Underground mining

Underground mining is the most common form of potash mining accounting for over 80% of global potash production.

It is the extraction of mineral resources that takes place beneath the surface.

The most widely used methods involve the use of shafts, tunnels, room and pillar extraction, cut and fill mining and sublevel stoping.

The nature of our deposit means that we will be able to use the latest technology available for this method of mining to optimise extraction.

Dissolution mining or in-situ leaching

This extraction process consists of pumping or injecting a liquid solution (generally water and salt) into the layer of mineral, where the potassium chloride and saline mixtures that form the layers then dissolve. The dissolution process forms underground caverns out of which the solution is pumped to the surface where the potassium chloride is crystalized and purified into an end product ready for sale.

The number of caverns created will depend on the thickness of the potassium seams and the production targets. Some projects are looking to create over 100 caverns each year to support production targets.

This technique is completely different to the hydraulic fracturing of rock (so-called “fracking”) for the extraction of non-conventional oil or natural gas, often reffered to as shale gas.

Evaporation methods from Brines

The natural deposits of salt rich brines are pumped from shallow depths beneath the surface and fed into a series of large, shallow ponds or large mechanical crystallisation installations to ultimately form saleable potash via multiple process steps. The biggest salt brine production of potash in the world is located at the Dead Sea.

Where is Potash found?

There are deposits currently being mined in Canada, Russia, Belarus, China, Israel, Germany, Chile, U.S.A., Jordan, Spain, U.K. and Brazil