JIS News

Story Highlights

  • The multi-million dollar Rare Earth Elements Pilot Plant is slated to be fully operational by the end of next week.
  • The state-of-the-art pilot plant was established through a partnership between the JBI and Japan-based Nippon Light Metal (NLM), for the extraction of rare earth elements from bauxite residue.
  • Executive Director, JBI, Parris A. Lyew-Ayee, informed that the commercial stage of the project is scheduled to commence by February of next year.

The multi-million dollar Rare Earth Elements Pilot Plant located on the grounds of the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI) in Hope Gardens, St. Andrew, has been completed and is slated to be fully operational by the end of next week.

This was disclosed by Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining (STEM), Hon. Phillip Paulwell, following the official opening and a tour of the $500 million facility on October 23.

The state-of-the-art pilot plant was established through a partnership between the JBI and Japan-based Nippon Light Metal (NLM), for the extraction of rare earth elements from bauxite residue and to determine the scope of a commercial rare earth elements extraction venture in Jamaica.

Ground was broken for the facility in early February this year, while construction was completed in September. Commissioning of the pilot plant is now underway and should be completed by the end of this month, when the full scale pilot will commence.

Mr. Paulwell noted that despite a number of setbacks, he is pleased to see that the plant has been completed “in very good time”.

He said he was “extremely impressed” with the scope of work that has been done at the facility, noting that it represents a substantial investment in Jamaica and in the overall project.

“We have tremendous hopes for the realisation of a fully commercialised project and we believe that this pilot plant will prove it,” he stated.

Executive Director, JBI, Parris A. Lyew-Ayee, informed that the commercial stage of the project is scheduled to commence by February of next year.

“We are in the commissioning process and we hope by the end of next week the commissioning will be successfully completed. Then we go into the actual pilot stage, which will go through to February or early March next year,” he stated.

He said the pilot phase will determine the feasibility of the project and the scope of the commercialization prospects.

“We have always identified the rare earth in our bauxite; the trick was always ‘how do you make money from it? How do you extract it?’ This is what this project is about and this is why we have to keep it very, very close to our chest, because we want to get the maximum out of this,” he said.

Mr. Lyew-Ayee informed that very strict security measures have been put in place at the facility to ensure the integrity of the project, particularly as it regards guarding intellectual property rights.

“Rare earth is a very valuable product and there are other processes of extracting the elements from different types of rocks and sources. However, the extraction of rare earth from red mud has never been done on any commercial basis. What we are doing here is a first and everything must be prototyped,” he explained.

“As such, the sensitivity of the project is very important for us, because there is competition out there which would like to get in on the action and we have to protect our partners and ourselves,” he stated further.

In the meantime, Mr. Lyew-Ayee reiterated that all operations at the plant will be carried out with the greatest care to ensure that the natural environment is not affected.

“For this project, we have gone through to ensure that we have met all the regulations and have obtained all the permits from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC) and the fire department,” he assured.

He noted that all the necessary permits are in order and the site has undergone regular “surprise checks” from the NEPA, “which we have passed with flying colours each time”.

Operations Manager, NLM, Tsuyoshi Kawarasaki, said his team is pleased to be working with Jamaica on this project.

He informed that one of the main reasons the company chose Jamaican bauxite is due to the fact that Jamaican red mud is of excellent quality when compared to other such elements across the globe.

He further noted that Nippon has confirmed high concentrations of rare earth elements in Jamaica’s red mud deposits, and that those elements can be extracted efficiently.

NLM is a publicly traded aluminium supplier headquartered in Tokyo with annual revenues of over US$7 billion and more than 10,000 employees.