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.
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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.