The world is waiting for the first deliveries of a multi-nutrient fertiliser from 5,000 feet under the North Yorkshire moors, connected to export facilities at Teeside by a 23-mile tunnel.
Interest in polyhalite as a fertiliser has been renewed by the discovery of large, high purity polyhalite deposits in North Yorkshire.
Polyhalite includes potassium, sulphur, magnesium and calcium, four of the six macro-nutrients that are essential to plant growth.
Poly4 is the trademark name of Sirius Minerals Plc’s flagship fertiliser product being made from the North Yorkshire polyhalite.
Sirius has already secured a peak supply agreement aggregate volume of 10.7 million tonnes per year in Europe, Southeast Asia, China, Africa, North America and South America, from customers who agreed to buy a set amount of Poly4 once production begins and to pay a given price.
The source found in North Yorkshire is the world’s largest and highest grade source.
The potential of polyhalite as a fertiliser was demonstrated since the 1930s.
Polyhalite is currently mined in relatively small volumes, including at another North York Moors site, at Boulby, run by Cleveland Potash Limited, a subsidiary of Israel Chemicals Ltd.
It produces between 500,000 and 1m tonnes per year as a direct application fertiliser or NPK additive.
But the new Sirius Minerals operation near Whitby is a game-changer, because the polyhalite reserves are considered sufficient to last for about 80 years, producing expected 10m tonnes per year.
Polyhalite has some sustainability advantages in that there is no requirement for chemical processing, and it has low carbon emissions compared to other fertiliser products.
It only requires crushing, grinding, and granulating by using a starch binder, to make a high-quality product available in granulated, powdered or chipped form.
The supply from the Woodsmith Mine under the hamlet of Sneatonthorpe, at Whitby in North Yorkshire, will help meet a significant unmet global demand for chloride-free potassium.
As well as being suitable for use on chloride-sensitive crops, Poly4 can also address sulphur and magnesium soil deficiencies.
And it does not contain heavy metals.
Poly4 has 14% potassium oxide, 17% calcium oxide, 6% magnesium oxide, and 19% sulphur, based on a 90% polyhalite content of the ore body, with the remaining 10% of anhydrite, magnesite, kieserite, hexahydrite, szaibelyite, gypsum, halite, mica and syngenite.
Because it is produced from a natural mineral, it is certified for use in organic systems by the UK Soil Association and Organic Farmers & Growers.
A large set of independent data demonstrates the potential for Poly4’s agricultural benefit to crops and physical characteristics as a commercial fertiliser.
Supply agreements secured by Sirius include a 10-year European supply and distribution agreement for its Poly4 fertiliser product with Germany’s BayWa AG.
BayWa distributes about 2m tonnes per year of fertiliser across Europe through an extensive commercial and logistics platform with direct access to the farm gate.
It is guaranteed to receive at least 2.5 million tonnes per annum of Poly4 in year five.
The agreement also includes two five-year extension options.
Sirius CEO Chris Fraser said the agreement would distribute POLY4 into the key European fertiliser market, which was second in the world behind China.
There are also uses in the animal feed markets for polyhalite.
The Woodsmith Mine is a £3.2bn capital investment project, expected to generate £100bn for the UK economy over the next 50 years.
Apart from creating 1,000 long-term, skilled jobs, the project is also set to support 1,500 supply chain jobs. At full production, the estimated export value per year is £2.5bn.
Initially, there were reports that the mine, in a protected area of countryside near Whitby, could cost £40.8m in tourism revenues annually.
However, it received written support from energy minister Michael Fallon, and UK Trade and Investment, the government export promotion agency, and from the regional tourism body, and 1,900 members of the public.