In 2019, these stakeholders Published a report Identify a series of potential strategies, including wiping and reusing entire hard drives, removing and reusing magnet components, grinding old hard drive magnets and using powder to make new magnets, and extracting purified rare earth elements from shredded drives. Each of these strategies has its own challenges—removing magnet components manually is labor-intensive; extracting rare earths from the technology can be chemically or energy-intensive, and generates large amounts of waste—and to expand it Any of these needs the support of many participants in the global supply chain.
Jin said that even the relatively small supply chain adjustments required to put used or recycled rare earth magnets into new drives are “difficult.” “Especially when you have to start using new technologies in small quantities.”
Nevertheless, some companies have already begun to take the first step. In 2018, Google, hard drive manufacturer Seagate, and electronic refurbishment firm Recontext (formerly Teleplan) conducted a small demonstration project that involved removing magnet assemblies from six hard drives and placing them in new Seagate drives. Frost said that this demonstration was a “catalyst” for greater research in 2019, in which 6,100 magnet components were extracted from Seagate hard drives in Google’s data center and then inserted into new hard drives at Seagate’s manufacturing plant. Frost, who led the 2019 study, believes that this is the largest demonstration in history.
This result, Which will be published in an upcoming journal Resources, conservation and recycling, Not only shows that rare earth magnets can be collected and reused on a larger scale, but also that doing so has significant environmental benefits. Studies have shown that, overall, the carbon footprint of re-used magnet assemblies is 86% lower than new ones. Frost said this estimate conservatively takes into account the energy structure of the local grid where the data center operates.Considering Google’s nearly all-weather renewable energy use This particular data center, The carbon footprint of reusing magnets is even lower.
Google declined to say if any follow-up projects are underway, but pointed Grist to its Publicly announced goals Develop a scalable rare earth magnet recycling process. Ines Sousa, Google’s supplier environmental impact project manager and co-author of the new study, said that there are still some challenges to overcome before this becomes a reality.
These include the need for extreme cleaning during magnet recycling, “because modern hard drives are very sensitive to small particles”, and the fact that hard drives are constantly changing, leading to new magnet designs every few years.
“There is an opportunity for the magnet design to remain the same across generations so that the repeated use process can be expanded,” Sousa said.
Seagate spokesperson Greg Belloni told Grist that the company is “committed to working closely with customers to address the complexities of rare earth recycling.” Another of its customers, computer manufacturer Dell, is exploring a different recycling method.
In 2019, Dell launched Pilot project With Seagate and Recontext, collect magnets from computer hard drives (collected through the Dell Recycling Program), crush them, extract rare earths, and use them to make new magnets.So far, some 19,000 lb Through this cooperation, a large number of rare earth magnets have been harvested for recycling. Dell spokesperson Mel Derome told Grist that the project “is still a pilot program because we will continue to look for ways to scale up within our own business.”
Although it may take years to recover rare earth magnets on a large scale using any method, the Biden administration can help accelerate these efforts.Through the Critical Materials Institute of Ames National Laboratory, the federal government has funded Several items Focus on developing cleaner and more effective processes to recover rare earth elements from magnets.recently Report on strengthening the resilience of the supply chainGovernment officials wrote that the 4,000 data centers operated by the US government represent a “near-term opportunity” to use this federally funded research and development to harvest rare earth magnets.