Mining officials in Jamaica revealed on Tuesday that Japanese researchers believe to have found new concentrations of rare earth minerals in the Caribbean country’s red mud, otherwise known as bauxite residue. While China is known for having the world’s largest supply of the valuable elements used in high-tech devices and hybrid car batteries, Japan, and many other countries are eager to find other supplies. As Jamaica’s once-thriving bauxite industry has been on the decline, the country is eager to hear rare earths may be able to be extracted.
Philip Paulwell, Jamaica’s Minister of Science, Technology, Energy & Mining, told the country’s Parliament that this discovery could be a huge opportunity for the country’s economy in terms of earning foreign exchange and creating new jobs. The confirmation of the rare earth minerals was made by researchers from Japan’s Nippon Light Metal Co. Ltd. Plans for a pilot extraction program have already begun, which will see Nippon Light Metal investing $3 million in buildings and equipment, as well as handling operating costs. Negotiations on commercializing the elements will take place at a later date, but any rare earths extracted during the pilot phase will be jointly owned by Jamaica and the Japanese company.
Rare earth minerals aren’t scarce, but there are few places with profitable concentrations, and their extraction requires expensive, advanced technology. Jamaica had previously tried to get the elements from the country’s red mud, but attempts turned out unsuccessful. Nippon Light Metal approached the island nation last January with offers to evaluate local red mud and confirm the ability to harvest the minerals. Should the pilot project turn out to be a success, the Japanese company has hopes of extracting around 1,500 metric tons of minerals per year.
[via The Republic]