Red mud research a breath of fresh air

Thursday, January 17, 2013

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Dear Editor,

Alicia Dunkley's article on the front page of the Daily Observer of Wednesday, January 16, 2013 entitled 'Big $$$ in red mud: Jamaica could earn billions from Japanese firm's research here' is a breath of fresh air, as it reiterates the importance of the role of research to national development.

This is a lesson Jamaica constantly needs to be reminded of, particularly since a similar research project was done in Jamaica over four decades ago involving the Scientific Research Council and the Stanford Research Institute of California.

Commendations are therefore in order for the team of researchers from the Japanese firm Nippon Light Metal Company Limited for their tremendous work, which contradicted the findings of the previous research.

Reporting on the five-year period (1966-1971), Senior Principal Scientific Officer Mr Neville McFarlane of the Scientific Research Council Mineral Resources Division, who was mandated to develop and exploit 'the country's mineral resources', cited among its achievements, work undertaken on "red mud, a by-product of the alumina process, and in collaboration with Stanford Research Institute of California, carried out technical and economic analysis of alternate processes for the separation and recovery of the various components of red mud. It was found that the proposals were uneconomical at that time". (source, Scientific Research Council in Retrospect 1960/79 Achievements. Scientific Research Councils Press 1979, pp 11-12).

The operative term "uneconomical at that time" should have been translated into the pursuit of further research at a later date by the Jamaica Bauxite Institute, which incidentally is just across from the Scientific Research Council at Hope Gardens. The net result is, the red mud research would have died a natural death if fate had not provided the opportunity for the Japanese to intervene.

As the nation looks to see the feasibility of this research, one cannot help wondering how many other research projects are languishing in reports or gathering dust on shelves, waiting to be unearthed.

What then has been the cost to the country in economic terms for the level of such neglect?

Joan Francis

Museum and Heritage Preservation Officer

University of Technology, Jamaica




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