The investigation of extensive phosphate rock deposits on the sea-bed east of New Zealand has intensified, with a second company gaining a exploration permit.
New Zealand Petroleum & Minerals has granted the L&M Group a permit to explore a wide area of the Chatham Rise, about 450km off the coast of New Zealand.
The licence covers areas to the west, south and east of a permit held by Chatham Rock Phosphate, the company that has spent years investigating rock phosphate reserves there .
Managing director Chris Castle says he's delighted another company has recognised the potential it sees in the area as a source of phosphate for fertiliser.
Chatham Rock Phosphate estimates the reserves its been investigating would keep New Zealand supplied with phosphate for 15 to 20 years.
Mr Castle says his company will apply for a mining licence this year and hopes in two years to start extracting the mineral, contained in nodules on the sea bed.
He says it could be extracted at half the cost of current imports, which come from Morocco.
Low cadmium levels
Mr Castle says another advantage is that Chathams Rise phosphate has extremely low cadmium levels.
The cadmium level in phosphate is an issue for New Zealand because it's a toxic heavy metal that accumulates in the soil from fertiliser applied on farms.
Scientists at Lincoln University are working on a new approach to dealing with that.
They are investigating the feasilibity of locking cadmium in the soil, to stop it being absorbed by plants, with the risk of it entering the food chain.