Supercomputers predict vulnerabilities in rare earths market

Supercomputers predict vulnerabilities in rare earths market

A supercomputer at the Argonne National Laboratory

Photo of the Argonne National Laboratory,

This is part 3 of a special 3 part report on the rare earths market.

Researchers at the Argonne National Laboratory are using supercomputers and agent-based models to predict fluctuations in the rare earth elements market.

Events such as mine closures or export embargoes could cut supply and disrupt markets, according to a study titled “Agent-Based Modeling of Supply Disruptions in the Global Rare Earth Market,” first published in the January issue of Resources, Conservation and Recycling.

Rare earth minerals are becoming increasingly important to the global economy and are used in a variety of electronic and military weapon subsystems found in precision guided missiles, radar and engines. reaction. They are relatively common and mined around the world, but China currently has control over their refining. In the past, the nation has threatened to halt exports of refined rare earths during political disputes.

Researchers in a Defense Logistics Agency program analyzed the potential effects of three out-of-supply scenarios for 10 of 17 rare earth elements – along with a handful of associated compounds – to determine the effects on the market. The DLA is obligated to send a report to Congress on rare earth supplies every two years.

They used Argonne’s Global Critical Materials (GCMat) tool, an agent-based model, which is a computational framework to simulate interactions between different entities in a given system.

“If there is a disturbance of rare earth flows from China, it can have significant effects,” said one of the report’s co-authors, Matthew Riddle, deputy energy scientist at Argonne. It can take up to seven years for a mine to come into production, he added.

Allison Bennett Irion, Group Leader, Nuclear / Radiological Proliferation Analysis and Modeling at Argonne and co-author of the report, said: “One area we looked at in the model is… what are the decision points that would make someone want to open or close a mine. The “location of the deposit is a factor and a lot of it comes down to a lot of regulatory elements,” she said in an interview.

“Critical materials are those that we’ve seen disruption in the past and seen can happen quickly, so I think we just have to make sure we understand the market,” she added. .

Riddle said, “With agent-based modeling, we can capture what’s going on in a market with much more fidelity and detail than with other types of modeling. “

In general, the analysis found that under the temporary scenarios – a one-year export halt and a two-year mine closure – the price impacts tended to last for years beyond. the period of disruption. The effects on production, capacity and demand could also last longer.

The GCMat team used the Argonne high-performance computing Bebop cluster at the Laboratory Computing Resource Center to calibrate the model and assess uncertainties over a range of diverse market scenarios.

“Agent-based modeling examines the parameters that trigger decisions, such as whether to open or close a mine, and how those decisions impact the market and the supply chain,” said Irion .

The accessibility of a mine and the types and amounts of elements found in the veins are also factors, she added.

“China – being the biggest player in this space – if it decided to reduce its exports, it would not be an area where someone else in the rest of the world could very quickly close this gap,” he said. she declared.

The largest price increases in response to disturbances have occurred for dysprosium, which is used in high performance magnets, specialty alloys, and other applications. Didymium, which is a mixture of neodymium and praseodymium, has also been found to be subject to price spikes, according to a press release.

Future studies “may examine the facts of additional US production at different stages of the supply chain and where it could make the biggest difference,” said Irion.

The model suggested that some mines that started outside China in response to a disruption likely could not continue to operate once primary supplies were recovered, she said.

The subjects: Department of Defense

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