Bitcoin’s environmental impact has never been a secret. Mining for the digital currency requires tons of energy, as powerful computers direct raw computing power at the mathematical process that creates coins. And to produce that energy, power plants have to spew almost as much carbon as an actual mining industry.
In order to “mine” Bitcoin, powerful computers have to solve specific, computationally intensive math problems to generate coins. There are no workarounds, by design, which means loads of computer power delivered by specialized equipment is necessary to generate the scarce digital currency.
Bitcoin, while not the only cryptocurrency that functions on this basic premise, is greedier than most of its crypto-counterparts—the sum total of Bitcoin’s electricity consumption slightly trails the entire country of Denmark. But to see how Bitcoin mining compares to its more literal counterpart, researchers spent 30 months comparing the net energy consumption of mining operations for Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and Monero with conventional mining. They found that “(with the exception of aluminium) cryptomining consumed more energy than mineral mining to produce an equivalent market value” of $1 over the last 30 months. Of course the way that math checks out depends on the (wildly variable) market value of Bitcoin at any given moment.
The findings bolster a hunch that cryptocurrency researchers have maintained for a while: The energy cost of Bitcoin is growing and getting bigger, as the coins’ actual value remains unstable. The four currencies examined in the study were responsible for 3—15 million tons of CO2 emissions over the period in question, with Bitcoin the largest culprit. Carbon emissions vary by country, according to the study: Mining farms in Canada emit the least amount of CO2, owing to the availability of alternative energy sources in the country. But China’s crypto operations, on the other hand, emit four times more CO2 emissions than Canada, which has prompted scrutiny from regulators.
The issue of energy drain has long been a problem for crypto-miners, who’ve occasionally suggested strange workarounds to circumvent their strain on the grid. One operation in Australia floated the idea of attaching a server to a traditional coal plant in an effort to power its own crypto operation. Needless to say, the environment wasn’t at the forefront of the company’s thoughts.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics