Mining Bitcoin is a hugely wasteful process. For miners to accrue more of the cryptocurrency, powerful computing hardware must solve increasingly difficult, and pointless, puzzles. The more computing power, the better your chances are of making money. But how much electricity is the industry wasting—and what is the environmental impact?
According to the latest study to put a figure on the industry, Bitcoin mining accounts for about 0.2% of global electricity consumption, and produces as much carbon dioxide as Kansas City.
The analysis published in the journal Joule claims to deliver a more accurate estimate of the carbon footprint of Bitcoin than previous studies, by using data from the initial public offering (IPO) filings of the major companies producing hardware for mining the currency.
The estimate is well below one published last year in the same journal. That research, by economist Alex de Vries, the founder of Digiconomist, concluded that mining operations might account for 0.5% of worldwide electricity use by the end of 2018—and eventually as much as 5%.
Bitcoin mining’s toll
The new study by researchers at MIT and the Technical University of Munich suggests that Bitcoin mining was consuming 45.8 terawatt-hours of electricity per year as of November 2018. That, in turn, produced estimated annual emissions of between 22 and 23 megatons of carbon dioxide, slotting the operations between the nations of Jordan and Sri Lanka in terms of greenhouse-gas pollution.
Including other cryptocurrencies in the calculation more than doubles estimates of how much energy is being used.
Using data disclosed in the IPO filings of Bitcoin hardware companies Bitmain, Canaan, and Ebang, the researchers were able to determine the types and market share of hardware being used by miners. By relying upon the manufacturers’ estimates of energy efficiency—and taking into account requirements for…