Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Phillip Paulwell, has given the assurance that every effort will be made to protect the environment as the country seeks to benefit from the extraction of rare earth elements from red mud deposits.
“We will ensure that from ground zero, we plan for sustainability, not only in relation to the project itself, but also the communities that will be affected,” Mr. Paulwell stated.
He was responding to concerns raised by Member of Parliament for North East Manchester, Audley Shaw, during Tuesday’s, February 19, sitting of the House of Representatives, about the possible impact of the project on the environment.
Mr. Shaw cited the case of China, where there are environmental concerns surrounding the mining of rare earth elements. Minister Paulwell noted, however, that while some countries were mining these elements, in a similar manner as bauxite, “what we are going to be doing in Jamaica is something different”.
“The rare earth elements exist in our red mud and so the (extraction) process is a lot different from going into green field territories to start to mine,” he said.
Minister Paulwell stressed that the project presents a tremendous opportunity for the country.
The extraction of rare earth elements from red mud is being undertaken by Japanese firm, Nippon Light Metal, which has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI) for a pilot project.
Ground was broken on February 4 for construction of the US$3 million pilot plant at the JBI’s Old Hope Road headquarters. The project is being funded by Nippon Light Metal, which will also be responsible for the operating cost.
Executive Director of the JBI, Dr. Paris Lyew Ayee, in his remarks at the ground breaking, stated that the project will have no negative impact on the environment. He said the process of extraction will be compatible with the environment.
“Our red mud deposits are located in well-engineered and managed containment ponds. Dried mud will be harvested from these ponds for processing here at our pilot plant so there will be no mining operations and related pressures on the environment. The dried mud will then be neutralised before extraction of the rare elements,” he explained.
Dr. Lyew Ayeeinformed that the “neutralised non-toxic tailings will then be returned to a properly sealed containment pond.”
The pilot project, scheduled to last six months, involves researchers from Jamaica and Japan treating some 30 tonnes of dry red mud to potentially extract some of the 17 rare-earth elements, which are vital in manufacturing smartphones, plasma screens, wind turbines, satellites and numerous other high-tech products.
During this phase of the pilot, the Government will begin negotiations with the Japanese company for the full commercialization of the project.