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Rare Earth Elements Found In Jamaican Mud 100

Posted by Soulskill
from the worth-more-than-the-common-and-uncommon-earth-elements dept.
stevegee58 writes "Jamaica was once home to a thriving bauxite (aluminum ore) industry. While Jamaican bauxite mining may have fallen on hard times, it seems that the bauxite tailings in the form of red mud are rich in rare earth elements. Japanese researchers have discovered rare earth elements in high concentrations in this red mud and have already invested $3M in a pilot project to extract them. Perhaps Chinese dominance of rare earth deposits is on the wane as global manufacturers continue to search for and find other deposits of these valuable minerals."
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Rare Earth Elements Found In Jamaican Mud

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  • by isopropanol (1936936) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @11:29PM (#42599695) Journal
    Mudders Milk..
  • by Anonymous Coward

    There goes my investment in Bucky Balls.

  • by trdtaylor (2664195) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @11:32PM (#42599709)

    You make it sound like China is the only place in the world for Rare Earth metal deposits. The United States has the largest known deposits of Rare Earth metals, with mining plans in the works as we speak.

    Most important part of this story is extraction of rare earth metals that does not harm the local environment / still profitable

    • by AHuxley (892839) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @11:43PM (#42599771) Homepage Journal
      Read up on Bukit Merah, Malaysia where rare earth metals where processed slag from old tin mines.
      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/09/business/energy-environment/09rareside.html?_r=0 [nytimes.com]
      Thats the PR you have to face when you want to set up and "not harm the local environment"... in 201x
      You wonder why press releases talk of not doing rare earth projects in Australia due to
      power, water, chemical costs ...
      for some reason they go back to 'other' parts of the world :)
    • by Carnildo (712617) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @11:57PM (#42599843) Homepage Journal

      "Rare earths" aren't really all that rare. What's rare is finding them in high concentrations.

      • by Fnkmaster (89084) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @12:06AM (#42599893)

        Funny, I thought what was rare was finding them in high concentrations in places where labor is cheap and environmental laws lax.

      • by NReitzel (77941) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @06:19AM (#42601363) Homepage

        Finding "rare" earths isn't that difficult. In this country, the problem is that rare earth elements (technically lanthanides) are invariably associated with the other f-series elements (the actinides), specifically thorium. Mining rare earths produces thorium oxide as a byproduct, and "disposing" of this ought-to-be-valuable stuff is a real difficulty. In China, it's less of a problem, for two reasons. First, it's apparently OK to dump radioactive waste in your local waterway, and second, the Chinese government doesn't shun all things nuclear. Like reactors, and bombs, and Oh Yes, thorium deposits.

        Now, finding rare earth deposits with almost no thorium in them is a real feat, and getting the US government to find ways to store thorium would a world-class miracle.

        • by dkleinsc (563838)

          Now, finding rare earth deposits with almost no thorium in them is a real feat, and getting the US government to find ways to store thorium would a world-class miracle.

          Are you saying that the issue is that there's no way of storing thorium acceptable to the regulators, or that you want to have the government responsible for handling the cost of storage? Because those are very different things: The first case is legitimately the regulator's fault, but the second case is businesses just trying to make the taxpayers pay their costs of doing business.

          • by Creepy (93888)

            Actually, the first assertion is very close to the truth - the NRC highly regulates access to thorium because of proliferation concerns, even though you'd need a nuclear reactor to make it into a useable nuclear weapon and it wouldn't be terribly effective in a dirty bomb. China just dumps it into landfills. It is an insoluble metal, so worries about it getting into the water table (alpha emitters are only really only dangerous if ingested, and thorium is a relatively slow one) is probably a non-issue.

        • Now, finding rare earth deposits with almost no thorium in them is a real feat, and getting the US government to find ways to store thorium would a world-class miracle.

          No, a world class miracle would be getting the U. S. government to fund the development of an LFTR that would provide the world with essentially unlimited cheap electricity, provide us with ample supples of rare earth elements and other exotic but useful isotopes as a side effect, generate almost no nuclear waste (LFTR consumes nearly all of

    • A Missouri mine [stltoday.com] for example. The mine is actually active again [alberici.com] to an extent.
    • by jrumney (197329)

      Most important part of this story is extraction of rare earth metals that does not harm the local environment / still profitable

      / in a country that is willing to overlook the environmental and health issues.

  • by wvmarle (1070040) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @11:32PM (#42599711)

    Must be quite low concentrations still, as otherwise they would have certainly known about it before. After all they've been mining bauxite there already, so certainly done a lot more research on that specific mud than on most of the rest of the mud on Earth.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Hardly. That testing costs money, and most of it is residue from decades before the rare earths were relevant.

      Just ask how the Culliname was found. Sheer dumb luck.

    • The place I live has an abundance of mud. The mud here is heavy and pitch black, and absolutely everywhere some 9 months of the year. It would probably be good for growing food if temperatures ever rose over 65 degrees. If only it were as useful as that rare Jamaican mud, this place would be rich.

    • The tailings may be gravity seperated into conveniently concentrated layers especially if a lot of water was involved.
  • Rare earth elements are in the usa also. Hell, diamonds and emeralds are sprinkled all throughout the carolinas too, but they're just not extracted. PArt of the reason for that is the cost of extraction. But another part of the reason is "hey why not let the other guy extract all of their mineral content and we BUY it from them, and save our own minerals for when they finally run out. Then we can use ours AND we won't have to share ours with them!"
    .
    Pretty much strip mine and use the other guys/gals stu
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Hell, diamonds and emeralds are sprinkled all throughout the carolinas too

      Is it really that bad in the Carolinas?

      • Hell yes! Sapphires too. Even gold mines (one of the largest gold mines in the world prior to the California gold rush is a few miles from where I'm sitting). But you do have to watch out if you want to mine any of this stuff, or you'll catch hell.

        North Carolina has Uranium as well, but there is so strong a NIMBY movement that any politician that suggested that we mine it and achieve energy independence in the state would find himself going to hell in a handbasket. Thorium too -- in the form of Monzanit

  • Rare Earths (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Tuesday January 15, 2013 @11:58PM (#42599845)

    Rare earths are NOT rare. They are in fact abundant in the crust.

    The problem with these materials is that deposits of rare earths are usually associated with stuff like Thorium. This makes the mining waste rather annoying.

    China has been willing to ignore this problem thereby cornering the market. Now they are getting the idea that being the world depository of rare earth mining waste may not be a good idea and are declining to sell to every Tom Disk and Harry at cut rate prices.

    So folks are looking for alternatives. The bauxite one sounds interesting.

    • Re:Rare Earths (Score:4, Interesting)

      by PPH (736903) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @12:55AM (#42600089)

      Thorium? Problem?

      I thought there was a potential nuclear fuel cycle under development that uses Thorium. So, while it may require some special handling, it has value and isn't a waste product to be dealt with.

      • by Telvin_3d (855514)

        Thorium's not particularly rare either. And like most radioactive material it's far too big a pain-in-the-ass to bother with actually stockpiling it long term. The long term costs of string it will almost always exceed the cost of just refining it when needed.

      • by careysub (976506)

        Since there is virtually no market for thorium at present (world trade figures are in the single digit tons), and none for the foreseeable future, it is a waste product that must be dealt with.

      • it has value and isn't a waste product to be dealt with

        the interests that control the USG are against the development of thorium-cycle reactors. And the USG will kill people to see to it that thorium-cycle reactors aren't available on a commercial scale anytime soon. Anybody who thinks this is incorrect is welcome to go ahead and start building one without their permission - if you have a way to succeed let me know and I'll invest!

        • by careysub (976506)

          the interests that control the USG are against the development of thorium-cycle reactors. And the USG will kill people to see to it that thorium-cycle reactors aren't available on a commercial scale anytime soon.

          Which is why the U.S. is active in the international Generation IV reactor research effort, that includes thorium powered designs?
          http://www.gen-4.org/ [gen-4.org]
          http://www.gen-4.org/Technology/systems/msr.htm [gen-4.org]

          • by Creepy (93888)

            The US/US industry doesn't care about thorium reactors - the industry is only interested in the Integral Fast Reactor, burning uranium. At least IFR can burn nuclear waste, so it isn't a total loss, but we've already lost the race to develop them to Russia by continuously canceling our test reactors (Russia has two ~2000MW online and is building a full scale reactor from what I remember). The industry estimates that IFRs burning just nuclear wast can power the world for 1500 years. When the US (and British)

          • There is a major difference between talk and prototyping. We built small scale prototypes of liquid thorium salt reactors forty or fifty years ago, but politics shut down the development when money was requested to go the next step and build a prototype to scale. We could pick up where we left off in less than a year if money were committed not to paper research that delays the project indefinitely but to prototyping and practical engineering, actually building one or more of the damn things and tinkerin

    • by haruchai (17472)

      China isn't "ignoring" the problem, they're refining and stockpiling the thorium. If their molten-salt reactor research pays off, they'll have decades of supply on hand.

      If not, they can use it in CANDU-style reactors.

  • Failed operation (Score:5, Informative)

    by SysKoll (48967) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @12:18AM (#42599937)
    The Chinese government had grabbed the rare earth market by cutting down prices (yes, labor camps and lax pollution rules help). Then they restricted supply, attempting to force Western manufacturers to bring to China all productions of materials using rare earths. Within months, out-of-China RE production that was shut down because of cost resumed, and prices actually went down. It's all in this amusing article [theregister.co.uk] written by a guy who used to trade this stuff.
  • by Frankie70 (803801) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @12:27AM (#42599969)

    http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/nation/how-big-business-gets-its-way [openthemagazine.com]

    Locals jailed for all kinds of silly reasons if they opposed the mining.

    • Isn't it... funny... how the adorable little theories about 'contracts' and 'consenting parties' dissolve when they hit the ground?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    One less reason for the "we're running out of metals!" schizophrenics to trot out their tired Space Age "asteroid mining" propaganda....
  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @01:15AM (#42600183)

    Jamaica could stand some good luck for a change.

  • Next step... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by FrankSchwab (675585) on Wednesday January 16, 2013 @01:22AM (#42600211) Journal

    So, China created an artificial monopoly by selling below cost and driving all other producers out of business...

    Then raised prices and restricted supply to drive costs up....

    And the free market responded with new suppliers entering the market...

    So China will let them spend billions of dollars developing their new sources, and we'll all go back to step 1 before they make a dimes worth of profit.

    • by Dahamma (304068)

      Unless other countries finally say fuck this and put tariffs on Chinese rare earths. I'm not a big fan of tariffs for protectionism, but punitive tariffs can be pretty useful.

    • Instead of selling "rare" earths for 1M times the extraction cost, they will tell 10x as much at only 500K extraction costs. Net win.
  • Jamaica Man.

  • Reminds me of Diamonds. DeBeers got away with, in many cases, literal murder while having a near monopoly on the african diamond mines. As far as people knew then, that was the only place to get diamonds. Now they're showing up all over the place.

    Been pretty good for the Northern Canadian economy, hopefully rare earth elements will do the same for Jamaica.

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