Bitcoin’s carbon footprint three times smaller than predicted

New research throws into question the idea that Bitcoin mining consumes as much electricity as Switzerland

Previous estimates claiming Bitcoin mining could be contributing to climate catastrophe are exaggerated, according to new research.

Bitcoin mining, where computing power is used to solve mathematical problems to verify blockchain transactions, has previously been thought to be significantly contributing to global warming.

A study earlier this year by Cambridge University suggested mining consumed as much electricity as Switzerland. This was followed up with a report from Nature Research, which claimed the cryptocurrency’s energy consumption could push global warming above 2°C, within three decades.

However, new research has discovered that previous estimates assumed mining electricity usage is the same across China, and that assumption has led to distortion of the energy consumption of Bitcoin mining.

The study at Aalborg University in Denmark has broken down usage by region, and puts Bitcoin's emissions at 17.29 megatonnes of carbon dioxide in 2018, compared to the 63 megatonnes previously stated.

Researchers Susanne Köhler and Massimo Pizzol also predicted in the study that the environmental impact per miner will shrink if mining equipment becomes more efficient, use of renewable energy sources increases, or miners relocate to cooler climates, where less energy is needed to cool computers.

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Despite these findings, they said accurately quantifying Bitcoin's carbon footprint is difficult without accurate data of where mining is taking place.

“On the one hand we have these alarmist voices saying we won’t hit the Paris agreement because of Bitcoin only,” said Köhler. “But on the other hand there are a lot of voices from the Bitcoin community saying that most of the mining is done with green energy and that it’s not high impact,” she added.

China is still the world’s biggest contributor of Bitcoin carbon emissions, accounting for 47 per cent of the global total. However, in light of the Chinese government's ban on Bitcoin mining and the Chinese president’s recent attack on cryptocurrencies, this could all change.

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