Rare earth materials are essential to a variety of economic sectors including healthcare and clean energy. In a new study, scientists at Argonne National Laboratory highlighted which rare earth elements are particularly prone to disruptions such as mine shutdowns.
A number of devices and machines are based on rare earth elements, most of which are mined and refined in China. Disruptions to this supply can have far-reaching consequences, but understanding of how these disruptions affect global markets is limited. Argonne researchers use a unique computer model to understand the effects.
Most of the 17 elements classified as rare earths are actually not rare, but they are difficult and expensive to extract from the ground and separate from one another. Rare earth elements are essential to many emerging technologies, including those that support a clean energy future. These include neodymium, praseodymium and dysprosium, which are components of energy-efficient permanent magnets used in wind turbines and electric vehicles. and gadolinium – the contrast agent taken before an MRI. The U.S. government classifies these items as critical materials, in part because of their importance in the manufacture of products that support national security.
China dominates the global rare earth market. The country produces an estimated 58% of the rare earths mined and controls around 85% of the world’s refining capacity. The US accounted for more than 15% of the production of rare earth mining in 2020, but this material is exported for added value processing and production.
A variety of disruptive events can affect the supply of rare earth materials, including natural disasters, labor disputes, construction delays, and a pandemic.
Causes of supply disruptions. Broad categories of causes of endogenous and exogenous supply disorders (yellow boxes) and examples (blue boxes). Neither the causes of supply disruptions nor the categorization approach include all those documented in the literature. mystery et al.
In a study published in the journal Resources, conservation and recycling, Argonne researchers analyzed the potential impact of three supply disruption scenarios on 10 rare earth elements and a handful of associated compounds to determine the market effects. Argonne’s GCMat (Global Critical Materials) tool was used for the analysis, which was supported by the Department of Defense’s Defense Logistics Agency.
GCMat is an agent-based model that represents a computing framework for simulating interactions between different entities in a particular system. This provides the ability to predict the dynamics of the rare earths market by modeling decisions that individual mining projects, producers and consumers might make. These “agents” continuously update their product prices, supply purchases, production quantities and capacity plans in response to market prices and supply availability.
The GCMat team uses Argonne’s high performance bebop clusters in the Laboratory Computing Resource Center to calibrate the model and assess uncertainties in a number of different market scenarios.
Agent-based modeling examines the parameters that trigger decisions, e.g. B. whether to open or close a mine, and how those decisions cascade across the market and supply chain.
– Allison Bennett Irion, study co-author and chair of Argonne’s Advanced Supply Chain Analytics initiative
The results of the study have shown which rare earth elements are particularly susceptible to disturbances. The largest price increases in response to malfunctions have occurred in dysprosium oxide, which is used in permanent magnets, specialty alloys, and other applications. Didymoxide, a mixture of neodymium and praseodymium, has also been found to be prone to price increases.
The results suggest that supply disruptions may occur earlier and more REE mines are starting outside of China, although some of these mines may not be able to continue operations after an interruption. In addition, the price and the associated market reactions such as production, capacity and demand tended to extend beyond the disruption period. Such market influences in the magnet supply chain could impact the cost and availability of a number of new clean energy technology applications such as electric vehicles and wind turbines.
-Mystery et al.
In general, the analysis found that for transient scenarios – a one-year export disruption and a two-year mine shutdown – the price impact tended to extend years beyond the disruption period. Effects on production, capacity and demand could possibly last longer. The model suggested that some mines opened in response to a disruption outside of China are unlikely to be operational once primary supplies are restored.
The GCMat team is currently working on changes to the model that will help align it with US goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. They improve the representation of the rare earth magnet markets for energy efficient motors, including those used in wind turbines and electric vehicles. New agent-based models of the lithium-ion battery supply chain will explore how the shortage of global materials can impact the adoption of battery technologies that are important to the electric vehicle markets.
GCMat, which was also supported by the DOE’s former Energy Policy and Systems Analysis Office, is based on Argonnes Repast Simphony, an open source toolkit for implementing and using agent-based modeling.
Researchers also plan to use GCMat to assess the effectiveness of strategies such as recycling, conservation, and diversification of supplies to reduce the severity of disruptions in rare earth markets.
Matthew E. Riddle, Eric Tatara, Charles Olson, Braeton J. Smith, Allison Bennett Irion, David Pineault, Elisa Alonso, Diane J. Graziano (2021) “Agent-based modeling of supply disruptions in the global rare earth market,”
Resources, conservation and recycling, Volume 164, doi: 10.1016 / j.resconrec.2020.105193.