Japan eyes Jamaica’s rare earth metals
KINGSTON — A Japanese aluminium company believes that there’s big money to be made from red mud deposits here and has put up US$3 million for a pilot project that could result in Jamaica earning billions in foreign exchange.
According to Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell, Nippon Light Metal Company Limited researchers have confirmed high concentrations of rare earth elements in Jamaica’s red mud, and are convinced that those elements can be extracted efficiently.
“The concentration of rare earth elements in mineable quantities around the world is unusual, and the concentration of rare earth elements found in Jamaica’s red mud deposits are significantly greater than what is known about other red mud sites around the world,” Paulwell told Parliament yesterday.
He said Nippon Light Metal’s ultimate objective is to extract 1,500 metric tons per annum.
Rare earth oxides, the commodity that will be extracted, are currently being traded at rates up to US$3,500 per kilogramme, according to Paulwell.
“When we compare that to alumina, which is now being traded at US$330 per tonne, it is clear that this resource presents an opportunity Jamaica must pursue, and which must be managed in such a way that Jamaica and Jamaicans benefit significantly,” the minister said.
Even at US$1,000 per kilogramme, 1,500 metric tons of rare earth metals have the potential to earn US$1.5 billion annually.
He also assured that the country was protected against exploitation as the Crown Property (Vesting) Act stipulates that any minerals found in Jamaica are owned by the Crown. Licences granted to bauxite/alumina companies are specific to the extraction of bauxite ore only.
Paulwell explained that in September 2012, Nippon Light Metal entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI) for the establishment of the pilot project to determine the commercial scope of the project.
He described the project as “the starting line of an opportunity that has the potential to redefine Jamaica’s economic prospects in a positive way”. (Observer)