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iNEMI’s Value Recovery Project Successfully Reuses Hard Disk Drives

MORRISVILLE, NC iNEMI’s Value Recovery from Used Electronics project participants published a report describing how the project successfully used end-of-life hard disk drives to demonstrate a viable process toward the development of a multi-stakeholder circular economy.

Project activities focused on construction of a set of decision trees to identify the options at each step in the value recovery chain in the context of a circular economy and what information each of the stakeholders needs to pursue higher value recovery along a given pathway; development of economic models, lifecycle assessments and logistics models to determine which value recovery options generate the highest value by type and size of drive. These models provide the basis for business decision-making by the stakeholders, both individually and collectively, as part of supply chains; demonstration projects to prove the efficacy of major critical-to-market circular economy pathways.

The demonstration teams were able to successfully reuse magnet assemblies, recover intact magnets for non-HDD use, make magnets from magnets and shred, make rare earth element oxides from HDD magnets and develop business models that would allow functioning HDDs to be reused/resold after secure, verifiable, economically viable data wiping.

“This report represents a significant body of work,” said Marc Benowitz, CEO, iNEMI. “It details the well-coordinated efforts of organizations from across the electronics supply chain that worked together on a practical application of circular economy concepts for electronics. These electronics manufacturing companies, national labs, universities and research institutes were able to successfully demonstrate a circular economy can be a reality for used electronic products.”

The Value Recovery project was organized using the Ostrom Framework as a self-managing, sustainable system. The project team went beyond the theoretical in demonstrating value recovery pathways for used HDDs in a circular economy.

“A major emphasis of this work was going beyond theory to identify existing economic and technology challenges to achieving sustained circularity,” said Bill Olson, coleader of the Value Recovery project. “In areas where we identified gaps, we worked to bridge those gaps via demonstrations. Our multi-stakeholder teams’ demonstrations overcame gaps by applying existing technology in new ways, developing new technologies, or capturing existing but as-yet unrecovered value to achieve sustainable supply via the Ostrom Framework.”

The demonstrations proved the effectiveness of multiple recovery pathways for reusing HDDs, including business models needed to securely destroy data so functioning hard disk drives can be sold to new users.

“The most ambitious goal of the project team was true circularity at the highest possible value: making hard drives from hard drives,” said Carol Handwerker, professor of materials engineering and environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University, and coleader of the Value Recovery project. “The team was able to accomplish this goal, as well as create all the other value recovery pathways needed to make a circular HDD lifecycle a reality.

“Today, almost all of the value of HDDs is lost by shredding them into mixed aluminum scrap sold at $0.25/lb. This contrasts with the significantly higher value recovery this iNEMI project demonstrated is possible, from HDD and component reuse, to recovery of REEs as magnet powders, oxides or metals to turn them back into RE magnets. Establishing that all of these pathways can be realized economically, logistically and with lower environmental impact is a significant accomplishment.”

To download a copy of the report, visit inemi.org/value-recovery-2-final-report. – CD