Former IT worker James Howells was previously at the edge of the cryptocurrency boom and could have become a multimillionaire, but his life changed when he decided to throw away a hard drive packed with Bitcoins.
Howells, from the southern Welsh city of Newport, had two identical laptop hard drives stashed away in a drawer in 2013. He claims one was empty; the other held 8,000 bitcoins, currently valued at around $181 million, despite the recent crypto slump. He’d intended to discard the blank one, but instead, the drive carrying the Bitcoin ended up in a garbage bag at the local dump. He’s still determined to recover his stash, which he mined in 2009.
Howells hopes local authorities will allow him to organize a high-tech treasure hunt for the buried bitcoins. For nearly ten years, Newport’s city council has denied his requests to dig for his hard drive, citing cost and environmental damage.
It’s been a long journey, but Howells is still determined to find his missing fortunes. The only difficulty is that discovering the hard drive would entail digging through an actual mountain of trash.
In an interview, Howell told Business Insider on Sunday that he has a surefire plan to save his bitcoin from the garbage heap. He’s put together an $11 million business plan, which he’ll use to entice investors and the Newport City Council to assist with landfill digging.
Howells’ approach comes in two versions, depending on how much of the landfill the council will let him explore. The most extensive option would take three years and include scouring 100,000 metric tons — or around 110,000 tons of waste — at the cost of $11 million. A smaller version would cost $6 million and take 18 months to complete.
According to a documentary hosted by Top Gear star Richard Hammond, the bitcoin “proponent” has already apparently obtained funding from two Euro-based venture investors, Hanspeter Jaberg and Karl Wendeborn, assuming Howells receives approval from the local government.
Finding a hard disc among thousands of tons of waste may appear to be a Herculean undertaking. However, Howells, a former IT employee, believes it is possible with a combination of human sorters, robot dogs, and an artificial-intelligence-powered machine trained to seek hard drives on a conveyor belt. The Boston Dynamics robotic dogs will also be used in the plan.
He has recruited a team of eight professionals specialized in AI-powered sorting, landfill excavation, waste management, and data extraction, including one advisor who worked for a company that recovered data from the wrecked Columbia space shuttle’s black box. The specialists and their firms would be hired to carry out the excavation and would be paid a bonus if the bitcoin hoard was successfully recovered.
According to Howells, machines would dig out the trash, which would subsequently be sorted at a temporary facility near the landfill.
Howells has included security costs in his plan because he is concerned that individuals may try to dig up the hard drive themselves. As a result, he’s budgeted for 24-hour CCTV cameras and two Boston Dynamics robotic “Spot” dogs that would serve as mobile CCTV patrols at night and search the region for anything that resembles his hard drive during the day.
Howells explained that the rubbish would be cleaned and recycled as much as possible after excavation. The remainder would be reburied.
“We do not want to damage the environment in any way,” he said. “If anything, we want to leave everything in a better condition.”
Furthermore, Howells stated that if he successfully retrieves the data, he will keep around 30% of what is on there, worth little more than $54 million at current market value. He added roughly one-third would go to the recovery team, 30% to the investors, and the remainder to local causes such as donating $61 in bitcoin to each of Newport’s 150,000 citizens.
But what if the council rejects his plans? If Howells cannot obtain the council’s support, he plans to sue the municipality, claiming that its actions constitute an “illegal embargo” on the hard drive. “I’ve been reluctant to go that way in the past because I didn’t want to cause complications. “I wanted to collaborate with the Newport City Council,” he said.
Howells claimed he had never had a face-to-face encounter with the council. He stated that he had been given a 20-minute Zoom meeting in May 2021 but believed that his new business plan would help him break through.
On June 24, he stated he met with Jessica Morden, his local member of Parliament. However, he can only wait now that he’s informed the council of his new plan.
“This is the best situation I’ve been in so far,” he said. “This is the most professional operation we’ve put together, and we’ve got all the best people involved.”