Limestone resources estimated at 150 billion tonnes - Next challenge: Monetising the mineral
Tameka Gordon, Business Reporter
By ramping up local production of limestone and its derivatives, Jamaica could exploit lucrative overseas markets and generate inputs for local feed, food and pharmaceutical production, according to new research.
The Limestone Assessment Study identified market opportunities in CARICOM and the Americas which could earn Jamaica multimillions in foreign exchange, according to a presentation of the findings by lead researcher Conrad Douglas.
"Jamaica is considered the limestone capital of the world, although we have not really tied this major resource to the production of high value-added products," said Dr Douglas.
"This is where we have to focus our energies to drive the industry towards the future," he said at a limestone symposium at Jampro.
Approximately 60 per cent of Jamaica by weight and 80 per cent of the total surface coverage comprises limestone, he said.
Jamaica possesses three grades of limestone: pharmaceutical, chemical and metallurgical grades, the latter used primarily in the bauxite industry.
And there is an estimated 150 billion tonnes of limestone resources of which 50 billion tonnes are considered recoverable.
"We have been producing and exporting Jamaican limestone which meets the specifications and it has found acceptance in the international markets," said Douglas, whose firm Conrad Douglas & Associates, was commissioned to do the study.
"We believe there is opportunity, as found from the study, to ramp up this production to even greater levels."
The researcher said limestone has the most diverse end-use structure of all materials know to mankind.
He suggests that the agriculture, food production and manufacturing sectors could better exploit the Ground Calcium Carbonate (GCC) derivative for the creation of value-added products for local use and export.
GCC is used in animal feed and paint products, while Precipitated Calcium Carbonate (PCC) is a "high-priced" derivative not currently manufactured in Jamaica but for which there are "diverse end uses in the production of fine chemical and pharmaceutical products," Douglas said.
"Limestone is contained in our diet in various forms and we are importing millions of US dollars of calcium supplements in Jamaica, which we can possibly make," he told the symposium.
Paper, polishes, paints, rubber, glass, cosmetics, plastics and adhesives were also identified as manufacturing opportunities through increased GCC production.
"There are many fibres and also dyes in which we have limestone as an ingredient. It is important to stress that limestone finds use in food for human and animal consumption," the researcher said.
"The matter really pertains to how we proceed in addressing this 150 billion tonnes of high quality limestone resource, of all kinds É to embark on a path of sustainable development."
Jamaican feed manufacturer, Hi-Pro, uses GCC in the formulations of its feeds.
The benefits from greater local production "would further support other indigenous industries," Hi-Pro's assistant vice president of energy and operations, John Carberry, told the Financial Gleaner.
"Limestone is one of the few indigenous ingredients in our feed, so we are currently enjoying the benefits of this local ingredient. I wish more of our ingredients were local as it would save on our appetite for foreign exchange and help with the cost profile of the feed," said Carberry.
The Limestone Assessment Study was commissioned by Jampro and the Centre for the Development of Enterprise (CDE).
The project is in its first phase: market assessment of limestone and value-added derivatives.
The second phase will assess the required investment, while the final phase will explore the technical assistance needed for companies entering partnerships, implementing new product diversification and environmental plans.
The Conrad Douglas study indicates that there are good market opportunities in the domestic, regional and extra-regional markets for limestone aggregate, GCC, PCC, quicklime, cut stones from re-crystallised limestone such as marble and alabaster as well as other additives in various kinds of building plasters.
The markets analysed were found to have imported limestone products valued at US$7.3 billion over the past five years from Canada, United States and Mexico, while they in turn traded US$ 4.4 billion in limestone products over the same period.
While the domestic market is being adequately supplied by GCC from existing operators, the study indicates "considerable opportunity" for exports to the "very large markets" of Central, South and North America.
Some US$140 million in limestone aggregate has been supplied to CARICOM and the Americas in the last five years from other suppliers, Douglas said.
Trading in GCC and PCC within the markets surveyed valued the trade at US$371 million for the same period.
Jamaica's access to these markets would require displacing existing suppliers, he said.
Jamaica imported some US$11.8 million of the limestone derivative quicklime to satisfy the domestic market over the last five years, presenting the opportunity for increased earnings from import substitution and exports to targeted markets, Douglas said.
"This, however, can only be achieved provided there is new and expanded production capacity," he said.