February 5, 2013 (TSR) – Jamaican Prime Minister the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller says the red mud project provides Jamaica with an opportunity to significantly boost its export earnings.
She said the project, if proven economically viable, could act as a magnet to pull many investors to Jamaica’s shores, and in this vein, the country could become a major hub for exports to the Americas and other areas of the world.
The Prime Minister was speaking on Monday (February 4), at a ground breaking ceremony for the establishment of the red mud pilot plant on the grounds of the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI) in Hope Gardens, St. Andrew.
This project, the results of which could potentially earn the country billions in foreign exchange, is to be undertaken at a cost of US$3 million over a period of three months by Japanese aluminium company, Nippon Light Metal. The plant will be used for the extraction of rare earth elements from Jamaica’s red mud, and a determination will be made on the commercial scope of the rare earth elements.
Extraction will be conducted by the JBI, in partnership with Nippon Light Metal. Scientists from the University of the West Indies (UWI), the University of Technology (UTech) and Northern Caribbean University (NCU) will also participate in the process.
“This project represents the kind of industrial diversification that this country needs, if it is to realise its economic potential and improve the living standards of the people,” the Prime Minister argued.
She emphasised that Jamaica has to build a viable export sector if it is to attain sustainable development.
For his part, Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining (STEM), Hon. Phillip Paulwell said apart from the economic opportunities that the project entails for Jamaica and its Japanese partners, it also represents a true partnership between the two governments.
He further noted that local scientists will also be able to garner a wealth of information in the area of research under the programme, as “we expect that all our universities will participate fulsomely in understanding and being a part of the unfolding of this project”.
Meanwhile, Executive Director of the JBI, Parris A. Lyew-Ayee said the project represents a new phase in the country’s long standing efforts to maximise the exportation and diversification of one of the country’s most valuable resources – bauxite.
“This ground breaking ceremony is essentially the culmination of a series of attempts to leverage the bauxite mining and alumina refining processes, in order to expand and diversify the Jamaican economy in various ways,” he said.
Mr. Lyew-Ayee said over the past year, the institute has sampled, analysed and characterised the red mud in various locations “and we are very satisfied with the results”.
“On a laboratory bench scale, we have been able to extract the gross rare earth oxides from the red mud. Now we need to move on to the next step on a plant scale, to ensure the commercial viability of this process,” he said.
Mr. Lyew-Ayee said the project will explore experimental methods with acid as the principal reagent as the extractant. Over the period, it is expected that approximately 30 tonnes of dry mud will be needed for the experimental process.
Director and Senior Executive Officer at Nippon Light Metal Company Limited, Mitsuru Ishihara, said he hopes that both Jamaica and Japan will benefit from the project.
Due to advances in modern technology, several industries, particularly the electronic and ICT sectors, are dependent on the supply and availability of rare earth elements. Typically, rare earth elements are key components of computers; Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) and Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) monitors; hybrid automobiles; wind power turbines; magnets in television sets; energy efficient light bulbs; sensors; GPS technologies; CD and DVD drives; digital cameras; most optic lenses; communication devices, as well as satellites.
The Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Nippon Light Metal of Japan, for the establishment of a pilot project to extract earth elements from red mud.
This was disclosed by Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Phillip Paulwell, in the House of Representatives on January 15.
Mr. Paulwell, who noted that the MoU was signed in September 2012, explained that the pilot project will be done to determine the scope of the proposed commercial project of the rare earth elements.
Nippon Light Metal’s ultimate objective is to extract some 1,500 metric tonnes per annum.
Hon. Phillip Paulwell noted that the concentration of rare earth elements in minable quantities around the world is unusual, and the concentration of rare earth elements found in Jamaica red mud deposits are significantly greater than what is known about other red mud sites around the world.
“Rare earth oxides, the commodity that will 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,” Mr. Paulwell said.
Rare earth elements or lanthanides are extremely valuable elements which require advanced technology for their extractions and include elements, such scandium cerium and dysprosium.
“Like many important technologies, rare earth elements source development may have environmental implications that must be identified and managed. The pilot plant study will seek to specifically map the potential impact on land, water, and air and the effect of neutralizing the by-products of rare earth element extractions,” Mr. Paulwell said.
The total amount to be invested in buildings and equipment for the pilot project plant is US$3 million, to be funded by Nippon Light Metal, which will also be responsible for the operating cost.
A number of Jamaican engineers and other workers will be employed on this project and Jamaica will benefit from the transfer of the knowledge.
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 at the pilot plant will be jointly owned by the Government and Nippon Light Metal.
The pilot project is scheduled to last for six months and ground is now broken for the project as scheduled.
Nippon Light Metal Company Ltd. is a publicly traded aluminum supplier headquartered in Tokyo, with annual revenues of over US$7 billion and over 10,000 employees.
Source: TSR, Jamaican Information Service