Jamaica and Japan begin red mud rare earth extraction project

February 11, 2013

Jamaica and Japan have formally launched a pilot project to test the commercial viability of extracting rare earth elements from Jamaica’s bauxite waste, reports the International Business Times.

Bauxite waste, commonly known as ‘red mud’, is a by-product of the Bayer process used for refining bauxite to produce alumina (aluminium oxide). 

Japan’s Nippon Light Metals is reported to have invested $3 million in the project and is working with the Jamaica Bauxite Institute to extract a number of rare earth elements from red mud. Rare earths are essential in the manufacture of components used in electronic gadgets such as smartphones, as well as for use in wind turbines and electric vehicles, among others.

If found commercially viable, the red mud project will provide Jamaica with an opportunity to significantly boost its export earnings. “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,” stated Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Portia Simpson Miller.

In January it was reported by Caribbean360 that in announcing the initial project, Jamaica’s Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Phillip Paulwell, had noted that rare earth oxides are currently being traded at rates of up to US$3,500 per kilogram as compared to alumina, which is now being traded at US$330 per tonne. Paulwell also disclosed that Nippon Light Metal’s ultimate objective is to extract some 1,500 metric tonnes per annum if the pilot project proved successful.

Posted by: Paul Whittaker, Editor ipmd.net, [email protected]   

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