Reggae, reefer and rare earths: Welcome to Jamaica!

Summary:Could the land of Bob Marley be poised to stir it up against China's dominance of rare earths? After a recent find, Japan thinks so.

No rare earths? No cry! Jamaica - home of the late Bob Marley - might have some for you.

Rare earth metals are not rare. They occur about as frequently as Bob Marley's children (the reggae legend sired many, three of whom were born within four weeks to different women in 1972).

But finding them and extracting them in usable quantities is the big challenge to a world which relies enormously on the elements for products from missiles to cars to mobile phones. China rules the global market , controlling about 95 percent of it. Many companies and countries have been taking market and legal measures to try to reverse that.

Japan, whose manufacturers use massive amounts, has come up with the latest answer: the red muds of Jamaica, a land known more for that prolific reggae star and for an altogether different substance, one that's definitely not rare and that a lot of people like to smoke rather than put into an iPhone. (Okay, so Jamaica has some fast Olympic sprinters, too.)

The AP reports that Jamaican science, technology energy and mining minister Philip Paulwell said Japanese researchers believe they have found "high concentrations of rare-earth elements in the country's red mud, or bauxite residue." Nippon Light Metal Co. Ltd. "believe rare earth elements can be efficiently extracted in Jamaica, where a once flourishing bauxite industry has fallen on hard times," the article states.

If true, that could lively up the Caribbean economy, to borrow a phrase from the frequent father.

Jamaica's not the only place where these things could soon boom. In an upcoming post, I'll take you to a much colder climate where things are stirring up.

Photo: Eddie Mallin via Wikimedia

More rare earth wailers on SmartPlanet:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Topics: Innovation

About

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter.

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