Computer hard disk drives are an inseparable element of civilization development, resulting from the digitization of today’s world. The amount of saved and stored data grows exponentially every year, driving the demand for their new media. The most frequently used data carriers are and will still be HDDs due to their larger capacity and lower price.
The number of hard drives produced is decreasing. In 2020, over 260 million of them were produced, and in 2010, over 600 million of them were sold. This is due to the replacement of HDDs with SSDs, which are much faster and work well in mobile computers, but there will be no alternative to using them for the next 10 years. HDDs still will be widely used in professional applications such as data centers, data storage, etc.
The life of the hard disk is 3-7 years, which means the need for their constant management and periodic replacement. This is due to the risk of their failure and the need to increase the storage capacity.
Interesting is the fact that, in the computers collected today there are still disks from the 90s!
About 200,000 tons of raw materials are used for the production of disks per year, which include aluminum, copper, steel and others, including elements from the group of the so-called rare earths (magnets).
Today, raw materials from disks are largely lost as a result of improper management processes (e.g. shredding).
The hard drives recycling solutions used today are outdated and do not fulfill the recovery of all raw materials. The most common one is grinding the discs as a whole, which is mainly used to destroy data. But despite the shredding of the hard drives, the data is not 100% destroyed, and what is more, valuable elements are also lost. Due to shredding, the elements mix with other materials, and then in the subsequent stages of mechanical separation they are lost, in mainly aluminum and steel, as they go together with them to the steelworks.
Also after shredding, the raw materials are mixed in such a way that even after their mechanical separation into the main fractions, such as aluminum, steel, etc. they are not suitable for re-use in new products and are sent as second-class raw material to be smelted in steel mills.
Disk shredding is a bad data destruction method!
The shredding method has been adapted from the solutions used in the destruction of paper documents. Standards in this area (eg DIN 66399) are derived from the destruction of paper documentation, and have only been extended to magnetic, optical and hard drives, which did not know how to destroy.
With today’s data density on disks with a capacity of e.g. 1TB on a plate surface of about 100 cm2, which has been cut into pieces with dimensions of 20×20 mm, 50-80% of the surface of the plates remains unchanged! Which allows reading of a very large amount of information! ie. 50% of 1TB drive is 500 GB of data!
And shredded raw materials from the disks are mixed and contaminated, so even after their mechanical separation into the main groups, ie. aluminum, steel and others, they are not clean, and, some of them are irretrievably lost.
So let’s stop grinding hard drives!
“Removing” data from hard drives using the demagnetization / degaussing method – degaussers.
The popular “degaussing” of hard drives raises serious doubts, as the construction of the disk is designed to protect the platters of the hard disk (data carriers) from an external magnetic field! The applied magnetic field strengths in the order of 1T (10,000 Gauss) are not sufficient to fully penetrate the aluminum-steel disk housing. Inside there are magnets and other elements located shielding and redirecting the external magnetic field outwards from the plates on which the data is recorded! Otherwise, the external magnetic field would erase the data on the disks!
Our company has attempted to construct its own degausser with the help of scientists from the Warsaw University of Technology from the Faculty of Mechatronics, who have many years of experience in modeling, calculations and construction of devices using magnetic fields and magnetism. After the results of the calculations and the design of the device generating the 1.5T magnetic field, which, according to the literature, standards and declarations of degausser manufacturers, is required to delete the data on the disks. It turned out that the device will weigh about 200 kg and require a significant power supply!
These results indicate the inadequacy of the use of the so-called degaussers available on the market for demagnetizing of hard disk drives! Moreover, bearing in mind that the magnetic flux of 1.5T (15,000 Gauss), i.e. very high intensity, may not cover all the plates in the disk, and may bypass the internal (magnetic shielding), the degaussing method for data deletion turns out to be questionable and does not guarantee permanent and complete deletion of data!
Moreover, after degaussing, the data carriers (platters) are physically intact, which creates the risk of reading the data stored on them. From this perspective, the degaussing procedure is simply unnecessary.
Today, simply destroying the data and “getting rid of hard drives” is a disrespect for the environment and a disregard for the environmental impact of waste. Each ton of recovered raw materials: aluminum, steel, copper, magnets is a measurable reduction in CO2 emissions and a benefit for the economy and the environment.
The management of discontinued HDDs is a global problem of the modern world. As a result of using improper methods of their management, hundreds of tons of raw materials are lost every day, including metals such as aluminum, steel, copper, magnets, and others, and shredding is additionally energy-consuming, and it contributes to additional CO2 emissions, instead of reducing them.
The use of this inadequate recycling leads to the loss of non-renewable raw materials and contributes to the increased emissions. As well as the need to use more non-renewable resources of our planet. When we do not effectively recover raw materials, we have to extract them from fossil deposits, which is accompanied by emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels, land degradation and waste generation.
The example of aluminum recycling clearly presents what are the benefits for the environment and economy from the recovery of raw materials and their reuse.
- consumes 95% less energy than its production from primary deposits, i.e. fossil ore.
- reduces by 97% greenhouse gas emissions compared to production from primary deposits.
- recycling 1 ton of aluminum reduces CO2 emissions by 9 tonnes and saves 4 tonnes of bauxite – aluminum ore. (1 ton of CO2 is the equivalent of driving a car’s emissions of 3,500 miles!)
- making products (e.g. cans) from recycled raw material is more than 20 times more energy-saving than from primary raw materials.
- aluminum and other metals are a non-renewable raw material, its deposits, like those of other metals, are limited.
To enable the effective recovery of raw materials from hard drives and 100% irretrievable data destruction, our company has undertaken the development of a dedicated technology for the management of discontinued computer hard drives.
As a result of this work, we have developed a new breakthrough technology that enables an environmentally friendly and highly effective solution to the problem of managing discontinued hard drives.
- The problem of recovery of all raw materials has been solved by using advanced industrial automation and robotics solutions in the process of robotic disassembly – “demanufacturing” of these devices.
- The problem of guaranteed and irreversible data destruction has been solved by physically transforming data carriers (the plates) in the process of their physical metal melting. This method guarantees irretrievable data destruction, because the data carriers (the plates) are completely melted and re-solidified in a new form.
Our technology guarantees data destruction and effective recovery of all raw materials from computer hard drives! Clean raw materials are recycled for re-use in the production of new products, thus the idea of the Circular Economy (CE) becomes an economic practice, and greenhouse gas emissions, carbon footprint and environmental impact are repeatedly reduced to a minimum. In addition, in our process, we use energy from renewable sources (RES) from our photovoltaic solar farm, which further reduces the impact of our process on the environment and contributes to the reduction of human pressure on the environment.