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Rare Earth not dead says Paulwell

Published:Wednesday | April 22, 2015 | 4:00 AM
Minister of Science Technology Energy and Mining, Phillip Paulwell.

TWO YEARS after declaring in Parliament that the mining of rare earth elements "has the potential to redefine Jamaica's economic prospects in a positive way", mining minister Phillip Paulwell is maintaining that the country can still earn big-time from this waste material of bauxite mud.

Paulwell had put the country on notice to look to the mud for part economic salvation as he revealed that the Government and Nippon Light Metals entered into an agreement in January of 2012 for extraction of rare earth minerals from red mud.

Nippon Light Metals, Paulwell said, was seeking to extract 1,500 metric tonnes per annum if a project being undertaken is found to be commercially viable. The project has since been completed but Paulwell said despite high levels of rare earth found, a shift in market conditions has left the project unviable at this time.

"We haven't earned anything yet. The market has shifted and that is the reason why the Japanese have decided to wait," Paulwell said as he contributed to the Sectoral Debate in Parliament last week Wednesday.

Japanese and other users of the oxides, turned to countries like Jamaica to find rare earth elements after China, which mines 90 per cent of the oxides, placed a ban on their export. However, shortly after the Jamaican project got under way, the ban was lifted.

"We spent just under $600 million, not us; the Japanese company, Nippon Light Metals, established its facility in Jamaica where we were able to successfully demonstrate the commercial extraction of rare earth, using our bauxite residue. It has never been done anywhere else," Paulwell told parliamentarians.

He said further that both the Government of Jamaica and Nippon Light Metals are now patenting that formula and the company and Government will share jointly in that patent.

In addition, Paulwell said, "we are seeing additional interest because recently I granted exploration licenses to an Australia company and they are now prospecting for rare earth. The project is not dead, far from dead," Paulwell said.

daraine.luton@gleanerjm.com