KINGSTON, Jamaica (CMC) – Government says it will soon launch the multi-million dollar rare earth elements extraction pilot project, being spearheaded the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI) and Japanese entity, Nippon Light Metals.
Science, Technology, Energy and Mining (STEM) Minister, Phillip Paulwell, whose ministry has portfolio oversight for the initiative, said that construction work on the J$300 million (one Jamaica dollar = US$0.01 cents) plant, being erected is now almost complete.
Paulwell said that all of the equipment to be used has been imported and that processing activities should get underway shortly “as we start to transport the red mud from one of the locations in the country”.
The project, funded entirely by Tokyo-based Nippon Light, entails the processing of the red mud by-product from bauxite mining activities, to extract rare earth elements.
These elements, which are vital in the manufacturing of smart phones, plasma screens, wind turbines, satellites, and numerous other high-tech products, have been found in significantly high concentrations in Jamaica’s red mud deposits.
The six-month pilot is being facilitated through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed by the JBI and Nippon Light Metal in September 2012. Over the period, researchers from Jamaica and Japan will treat some 30 tonnes of dry red mud to potentially extract some of the 17 rare-earth elements, which have been found in bauxite by-product.
A number of Jamaican engineers and other workers will be employed on the project and Jamaica will also benefit from the transfer of knowledge.
In addition to funding the plant’s construction, Nippon Light will also be responsible for the facility’s operating cost. The firm’s ultimate objective is to extract some 1,500 metric tonnes per annum.
“The government of Jamaica at this (pilot) stage, will not be spending any resources on the project. We believe that it is going to be a very successful pilot, and in fact, we intend to commence negotiations (with Nippon Light) on the commercial operations very shortly,” said Paulwell.
The authorities say most significantly, the results of the pilot project will be owned in equal parts by the JBI and Nippon Light Metal. Further, any rare earth elements produced from the pilot plant will be jointly owned by the Government and Nippon Light Metal.
Earlier this year, Paulwell told Parliament that the rare earth oxides to be extracted are currently being traded at rates of up to US$3,500 per kilogram.
“When we compare that to alumina, which is now being traded at US$330 per tonne, it is clear that this source presents an opportunity Jamaica must pursue, and which must be managed in such a way that Jamaica and Jamaicans benefit significantly,” he said.