Google is trying to recycle hard drives by reusing its rare earth magnets

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Researchers spent the entire fall of 2019 at a laboratory in a Google data center in Mayes County, Oklahoma, disassembling an old hard disk to extract a two-inch long component called a magnet assembly.After extraction, researchers sent thousands of used magnetic assemblies to hard drive makers. Reuse them on a new hard drive.. A project by Google aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to the environment. Hard drive Recycle rare earth magnets instead of throwing them away as scrap.

For those who don’t know, the magnet assembly in the hard disk drive consists of two rare earth magnets. Over the course of six weeks, scientists have extracted 6,100 such magnetic components from their hard drives and improved them all as good as new. The magnets were then sent to Thailand, where they were placed on new hard drives and eventually used in data centers around the world.

Unfortunately, not all magnets make the same journey. Over 22 million hard disk drives are shredded and discarded each year in the United States. This means that these rare earth magnets, which consume a lot of energy for mining, will eventually reach deep into the ocean with scrap aluminum.

For several years, Google has been trying to change the fate of these magnets. Backed by our motivation to save the planet, tech companies are now looking for ways to mine hard drives. So far, these efforts have been ignored and rarely received public attention. However, the Biden administration has recently flagged the hard drive of government data centers as a major source of these rare earth elements.

“Hard drive magnets are important because they contain neodymium and dysprosium, which are essential for electric vehicles and wind turbines. Of the 17 different rare earth elements, these two are currently the most important and important.” Hongyue Jin, a scientist at the University of Arizona studying rare earth recycling, said in a statement.

“To install a hard drive on your home computer, you need to bring it to a recycler as a consumer.” Kali Frost, a PhD student in Industrial Sustainability at Purdue University, said. “Data centers already supply millions of hard drives. The companies that operate these data centers process the data centers in the best possible way and data for sustainability. We want to optimize the center more and more. “

In 2019, countries such as China and the United States will see ways in which hard drives can be recycled, such as wiping and reusing entire hard drives, crushing old hard drive magnets, and creating new hard drives with powder. I figured it out. Currently, each of these strategies has its own set of obstacles.

However, some companies have already begun to take the initiative. In 2018, Google, hard drive maker Seagate, and electronic regenerator Recontext conducted a small test of removing the magnet assembly from six hard disk drives and placing them in a new drive.According to Frost, this demonstration “catalyst” For a large 2019 study where 6,100 magnet assemblies were extracted from the Seagate hard drive in the Google data center before being inserted into the new Seagate hard drive at the Seagate manufacturing facility.

This shows that not only can these magnets be reused, but they also have environmental benefits. The carbon footprint of the reused magnet assembly is 86% lower than the new one. Ines Sousa, Google’s supplier environmental impact program manager and co-author of the new study, says there are still some challenges that must be overcome before it becomes a reality.

Since modern hard drives are very sensitive to small particles, these include the fact that proper care of cleanliness during magnet recycling and the fact that new magnet designs are seen each year. Nonetheless, achieving this is still a long way off, but the actual action plans and the baby’s steps towards them make us believe it’s not too far away.