Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
JAMAICANS COULD, by the time they celebrate Independence this year, know whether the country will tap the multibillion-dollar rare earth minerals market.
Rare earth minerals, which are key ingredients for cellphones, wind turbines and gas-saving cars, have been found in bauxite waste on the island.
Phillip Paulwell, the minister with responsibility for mining, announced in the House of Representatives yesterday that a memorandum of understanding (MOU) has been entered into between the Jamaican government and Nippon Light Metals for extraction of rare earth minerals from red mud.
"In January of 2012, a Japanese company with the technology to extract rare earth elements approached the Government of Jamaica with a research request. Today, Mr Speaker, I am pleased to announce that that research has confirmed high concentrations of rare earth elements in Jamaica's red mud," Paulwell told The Gleaner.
Paulwell said entering into a commercial arrangement "has the potential to redefine Jamaica's economic prospects in a positive way".
He told the House yesterday that an MOU was inked last September, and that Nippon Light Metals is seeking to extract 1,500 metric tons per annum if a project being undertaken is found to be commercially viable.
But while welcoming the announcement, North Central St Andrew MP Karl Samuda demanded clear timelines from Paulwell about when the country would know whether the project will materialise.
"We do not wish to have continued promises and announcements as if they were in fact the objective in the final analysis," Samuda said.
In response, Paulwell said: "We expect to break ground early in February for the pilot plant and that during that period, the middle of the process - three months after - I will update the House on the progress, and by the end of that period when we enter into, we hope, a commercial arrangement, I would again update this honourable House."
Yesterday, the minister told Parliament that the concentration of rare earth elements in minable quantities around the work is unusual.
"The concentration of rare earth elements found in Jamaica's red mud deposits are significantly greater than what is known about other red mud sites around the world," Paulwell said.
Under the law, all minerals found in Jamaica are the property of the Government. Paulwell also noted that licences granted to bauxite/alumina companies are specific to the extraction of bauxite.