Jamaica could become a major player in the rare-earth market, which is currently dominated by China.
According to Jamaica's minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Philip Paulwell, a recent survey carried out by Japanese researchers has found high concentrations of rare-earth elements in bauxite residue. Mind you, the Japanese should be pretty good at finding stuff in the dirt, since Japan doesn't really have any noteworthy natural resources.
In a report to Jamaica's Parliament, Paulwell pointed out that the researchers believe Jamaica's rare-earth elements could be efficiently extracted, indicating that commercial production could be possible. The discovery could potentially turn Jamaica's economy around.
"The government of Jamaica perceives the extraction of the rare-earth elements that are present in Jamaica to be an exciting new opportunity to earn much needed foreign exchange and create jobs," Paulwell told lawmakers.
AP reports that Nippon Light Metal, the company behind the survey, has already agreed to invest $3 million in buildings and equipment for the pilot project.
Rare-earth elements produced during the pilot project will be jointly owned by Jamaica and the company, while negotiations on full scale commercialisation are expected at a later date.
China currently dominates the rare-earth market and it has a virtual monopoly on supplying rare-earth elements to manufacturers. In recent years China scaled back exports, causing alarm among foreign companies and governments. In response, the US, EU and Japan filed formal complaints about China's decision to curtail exports of rare-earth minerals.