Jamaica Breaks Ground on Plant for Rare Earth Element Extraction

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - February 4, 2013

Above: Jamaica PM Portia Simpson Miller at the ceremony (JIS Photo)

By the Caribbean Journal staff

Jamaica broke ground Monday on a “red mud” pilot plant in St Andrew as part of its plan to extract rare earth elements in the country.

The plant will be located at the Jamaica Bauxite Institute in Hope Gardens. Red mud is a byproduct of the process of refining bauxite. Recent findings suggest that Jamaica’s red mud could have a significant concentration of rare earth elements, which are important components in many of the world’s most expensive electronics products.

The project will cost $3 million over a period of three months. It’s being undertaken by Japanese aluminium company Nippon Light Metal.

The plant will be used to extract rare earth elements from Jamaica’s red mud. A determination will then be made on the commercial scope of the elements, according to the government.

“This project represents the kind of industrial diversification that this country needs, if it is to realize its economic potential and improve the living standards of the people,” Jamaica Prime Minister Simpson Miller said.

Extraction will be conducted by Nippon in partnership with the JBI.

Scientists from the University of the West Indies, the University of Technology and Northern Caribbean University will all participate in the project.

“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,” said Parris A Lyew-Ayee, the executive director of the JBI.

“On a laboratory bench scale, we have been able to extract the gross rare earth oxides from the red mud,” he said. “Now we need to move on to the next step on a plant scale, to ensure the commercial viability of this process.”

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