Technical innovators are always looking for creative solutions to our current problems. You may not be aware that data storage is one of those issues. Actually, it’s a big problem for us because of how we currently store data. We expend a great deal of energy and resources in order to store and utilize information and the trend to digitize and store information electronically is only increasing. The problem with our current model of storage is two-fold: one, it takes an extraordinary levels of energy to maintain servers that manage our data, and two, hard drives and USB drives large amounts of heavy metals to construct.
These environmental issues might seem small in the wake of our needs, but they really aren’t. Mining for metal, especially in the amounts we require to meet supply demands, and producing hard drives and USB drives are well recorded. They include issues with waste from manufacturing and the mining process itself contaminating the soil, air, and natural water sources and physical instability of the land from cutting into the earth. Technological waste is another increasing problem polluting the planet; heavy metals find their ways into waterways (including drinking water sources) that contaminate both plants and poison animals. It can also find its way back into the soil and interfere with both humans and the crops we farm to feed our population. Heavy metals remain in soil for very long periods of time. Burning foraged metals pollutes the atmosphere. Improperly recycled devices clog up space in landfills.
If we want to continue living and functioning in a digital world, then we’ll need to find a more sustainable method for storing data that does not harm our planet. We need a technology that lets us do the best thing for both us and the world.
Belgium stepped up to this conundrum with an innovative solution. Belgian researchers from the Ghent University have discovered an entirely new way to store and read data. They have discovered a form of data storage using powder instead of metal chips that we use now. It is a chemical process which stores data such as a QR code or text in the form of a powder. The method puts data on molecules. It requires a biochemical method to analyze and read it, of course. Two programs have been written precisely for this analysis. The first ensures that the data can be read very quickly, within seconds. The second program automatizes translation between the data and the molecules in the powder.
Researchers are hopeful that they can develop the technology even further so that it can support and surpass the data capacity of USB drives, which are capable of holding more than QR codes and text. Users increasingly utilize digital data for a wide variety of applications such as banking, videos and video blogging, news, pictures and social media, and life organization like calendars.
Of course, this technology is, well, new. It will require a great deal of research and testing before it will be available for global use. There are several unanswered questions regarding this innovation, such as how will it be used on a large scale with average users? Will it be more or less expensive? Will it be as easy and intuitive as using a USB drive? When will we be able to do this? These researchers have been working on this tech for the past five years and have not given any kind of idea when consumers can or should expect to utilize powder data storage. However, last year in March Dutch researchers were able to successfully code data on an atom, so perhaps things will move along relatively quickly.
If this technology can be streamlined and made user friendly and match or even surpass the capabilities of our current metal based data retention technology, then this new data powder powered method might just be the solution to meet user demand in an environmentally and sustainable way.