Bitcoin Causes 22 Megatons of Carbon Dioxide Emission a Year

  • The annual power consumption of Bitcoin mining sits between 45 and 46 Terawatt-hour. 
  • The corresponding CO2 emission goes up 22 megatons per year. 
  • This can be compared to the total emissions of cities like Las Vegas or Hamburg.

Released as open-source software in 2009, Bitcoin reached its peak market capitalization of more than $800 billion only a decade later. The revolutionary element of Bitcoin, however, was not the inception of cryptocurrency but the underlying blockchain technology.

In 2018 alone, the computing power needed to solve a Bitcoin puzzle increased 4 times, raising the electrical consumption accordingly. The cryptocurrency boom in recent years has imposed an additional burden on the environment.

Recently, researchers at the Technical University of Munich, Germany, developed a techno-economic model to determine how much electricity global Bitcoin network is consuming, and provide a precise estimate of its carbon footprint. The team divided the work into three stages –

  1. Analyze the power consumption based on mining hardware and facilities.
  2. Determine geographic footprint of Bitcoin using IP addresses of device, node and pool server.
  3. Evaluate the carbon footprint in regions where power generation mostly depends on carbon-intensive processes.

Studies conducted so far — to calculate the carbon dioxide emission caused by Bitcoin mining — have been based on several approximations. This one, on the other hand, shows the most detailed measurement of the carbon footprint of a vast Bitcoin network.

Researchers calculated power consumption of special hardware (ASIC) used for Bitcoin mining, which is customized for a particular use, instead of general-purpose use.

Reference: Joule | DOI:10.1016/j.joule.2019.05.012 | TUM 

The cryptocurrency boom has really increased the demand for such hardware. In fact, three manufacturers of ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) planned to go public in 2018. The research team used statistics unveiled by different miners to better analyze the orders of magnitude involved.

Where Are Most Miners Located?

As per calculations, the annual power consumption of Bitcoin mining sits between 45 and 46 Terawatt-hour (TWh). Generating this energy releases a lot of carbon dioxide but how much exactly? To find an accurate answer, researchers determined the location of Bitcoin miners.

Bitcoin carbon emission

They used live tracking data from mining pools and IP addresses in the reports released by the two biggest pools. The data shows that 68% of the computing power is located in Asia, 17% in Europe, and 15% in North America. The remaining 21% cannot be localized.

The then evaluated carbon footprint of Bitcoin mining based on its total power consumption and geographical data. To calculate how much carbon dioxide is released in individual countries, researchers multiplied average power consumption and marginal emission factors of power generation.

Overall, the global network of Bitcoin has a carbon footprint of approximately 22 megatons annually. This can be compared to the total emissions of cities like Las Vegas or Hamburg.

Power consumption of Bitcoin mining may only be the tip of the iceberg. The other cryptocurrencies could potentially add a power demand of 40 TWh.

Read: Bitcoin Alone Can Increase Global Temperature Above 2°C Within 3 Decades

The carbon footprint of cryptocurrencies is increasing year-by-year and raising serious concerns. Now is the time to discuss the prospects of limiting cryptocurrency mining in cities where power generation is carbon-intensive.

Written by
Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is a professional science and technology journalist and a big fan of AI, machines, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from Indraprastha University. To find out about his latest projects, feel free to directly email him at [email protected] 

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