In the context: For years, a British computer engineer who essentially threw away the key to his cryptocurrency vault has been trying to dig up the device that holds it in a local junkyard. This year he came up with the most daring project, but the chances of his approval by the authorities are negligible.

- Advertisement -

Back in 2013 the life of James Howells modified when he threw away a hard drive that might be the most valuable in the world. Before that, Howells kept two 2.5-inch hard drives in his desk drawer, one of which he was going to get rid of, and the other was a digital wallet with about 7,500 bitcoins. Even though bitcoin has fallen significantly from its peak value of almost $67,000the wallet still holds the equivalent of almost $185 million in digital tokens.

- Advertisement -

After a British computer engineer accidentally threw the wrong drive in the trash, he asked Newport City Council to let him dig it up in a landfill. However, his requests were repeatedly rejected, even when he offered to pay the local government a quarter of the cryptocurrency holdings in that wallet. It turns out that his “treasure hunt” is considered environmentally hazardous in all forms presented over the past nine years.

- Advertisement -

However, he hasn’t given up yet. Howells hope convince the local authorities to let him find a valuable hard drive with a new offer backed by a hedge fund. Finding such a small device among more than 100,000 tons of garbage would be a monumental task, but the engineer believes that the use of artificial intelligence and automation could help sort all the waste faster.

Howells has two versions of this new plan. The first will involve sorting all 100,000 tons over three years using a combination of human and robotic sorters.Placedogs from Boston Dynamics and a special conveyor with automated sorting systems would all cost at least $11 million and take nine to twelve months. He also envisions a scaled-down version of this operation that would only cost $6 million and take up to 18 months to complete.

Both plans will involve a team of experts in various fields such as landfill excavation, waste management and data extraction. Howells even turned to a consultant who worked for OnTrack, the company that successfully restored 99 percent data from the black box of the crashed Space Shuttle Columbia.

After excavating the debris, Howells plans to clean up and recycle as much as possible, and rebury the rest. His team is even exploring the possibility of building a solar or wind farm on the site of the landfill. The idea is to have as little environmental impact as possible, but it remains to be seen if this will eventually convince the authorities to green-light the operation.

Howells is even willing to offer additional incentives, such as using part of the funds to pay £50 (~$61) to each of Newport’s 150,000 residents if the operation is successful. However, for now, he can only wait for an official response and hope that it will be favorable.

Head credit: Kanchanara