Western Digital Capital, the investment arm of data storage giant Western Digital which is a leading manufacturer of magnetic hard disk drives, has made a strategic investment into Niron Magnetics, a developer of “clean earth magnets” which don’t require rare earth materials. The amount was not disclosed but it adds to $21.3 million the company raised last year.
“Western Digital is driving toward a more sustainable supply chain, and magnets play a critical role in that chain for HDDs,” said Dan Steere, senior vice president, Western Digital Capital. “While most of the materials used in our HDDs are plentiful and readily available, rare-earth magnets are difficult to process and available only in limited geographies and quantities. Niron’s technology has the potential to help strengthen our supply chain and reduce the life cycle impacts of our products.”
“As demand in the data storage market continues to grow, innovation is essential to find an alternative for the magnets used in the actuators of disk read- and-write heads and spindle drive motors while avoiding environmentally damaging rare earth mining and mitigating the risk of supply disruptions,” said Andy Blackburn, CEO of Niron.
Niron’s technology leverages materials science innovations to eliminate the need for rare earth content in magnets and instead uses some of the most common elements on earth, iron and nitrogen. Its manufacturing techniques precisely control and manipulate the crystal structure of iron nitride (Fe16N2) to obtain high strength magnets with high temperature resiliency.
A spinout from the research labs at University of Minnesota, Niron is presently building a pilot production plant. Construction began at the end of February and work on the 25,000 sq ft facility is currently underway, Blackburn reported in an update in February. Commercially, developments in the permanent magnet market continue to attract the attention of potential customers, he noted. “Rare earth prices have increased about 40% since December 2021 and are now more than 3x higher than what they were 16 months ago. Additionally, the Chinese government announced a consolidation of rare earth producers, raising concern among buyers. These developments have led to increased interest in alternative sources of magnet supply.” The pilot facility will enable the company to provide sampling to key commercial partners for device prototyping initiatives.
At Western Digital, the company’s new energy-assisted magnetic recording products are bringing new levels of capability to data centers. Designed for public and private cloud environments, its Ultrastar devices achieve higher memory densities to store massive amounts of data. A breakthrough in hard disk drive (HDD) recording technology, EAMR enables higher areal density through increased bits per inch on HDD tracks.
Its energy-assisted perpendicular magnetic recording (ePMR) is the first implementation of the EAMR technology to scale beyond legacy versions of perpendicular magnetic recording. ePMR was productized as part of Western Digital’s research and characterization of other EAMR technologies such as microwave-assisted magnetic recording. In ePMR, the recording head generates a magnetic field that aligns magnetic elements in the media grains. Aligned media grains represent the individual 1s and 0s of data being written. Higher bits per inch BPI and thus higher areal density is achieved when individual bits of data can be written closer together.