70,000 tons and hundreds of miles

David Montanari, LBNF Cryogenics Infrastructure Project Manager (DOE)

DUNE will need a steady supply of liquid argon (LAr) when it’s time to fill the detector modules, which together will hold almost 70,000 metric tons. Even though 2024-2028 sounds far in the future, it’s time to start lining up our suppliers. We will most likely need to engage with several vendors that could supply the LAr from up to tens of different plants across the U.S. — no single plant or producer is likely to be able to supply it all.

Argon is a byproduct of oxygen production, and generally speaking, if steel manufacturing is going well, then so is oxygen (and thus argon) production. Liquid argon supply-and-demand is relatively balanced at the moment, but forecasting 8-10 years in the future is difficult.

Just before the holidays I visited the potential vendors in the U.S., with a consultant hired to help with this strategically complicated procurement. Troy Lark, the LBNF Procurement Manager, joined us for the first visit while Sandra Efstathiou, LBNF Senior Procurement Administrator, supported us from Fermilab.

All the vendors are extremely excited about the project and the possibility of contributing to it. Despite logistics challenges due to the several-hundred-mile distance between SURF and most of the plants, our key takeaway is that the whole supply chain — from production to transportation to delivery — of the required amount of argon to Lead, SD is feasible.

Some vendors offered very useful suggestions about the layout of the surface LAr receiving facility at SURF for improving the reliability of delivery with respect to unforeseeable events, such as traffic conditions and weather.

My colleagues and I are currently reviewing what we learned at these meetings, the vendors are discussing our requirements internally, and our consultant is following up with them. We are also working on a Request For Information (RFI) that will help us develop the procurement strategy for the supply of LAr, sharpen our cost estimates and improve the receiving facilities on the surface.