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Bitcoin mining in China produces more carbon than European countries

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Maintaining the bitcoin network requires vast amounts of energy (Picture: EPA)

Cryptocurrency bitcoin is on course to generate more emissions in China annually than the total output of many mid-sized European countries by 2024, according to new research.

An analysis by researchers at Tsinghua University found that the total carbon footprint of bitcoin mining would peak at 130 million tonnes of carbon by 2024.

The total carbon output would be greater than countries like the Czech Republic and Qatar. If bitcoin mining was a city in China, it would rank among the top 10 in terms of energy consumption and carbon emissions.

Lead researcher Guan Dabo calculated that by 2024, bitcoin mining would account for around 5.4 percent of China’s carbon emissions, requiring 297 terawatt-hours of energy.

Maintaining the bitcoin network requires vast amounts of energy due to the computational load required to solve the mathematical puzzles that define the bitcoin algorithm.

Computers have to solve these puzzles to create new bitcoin and verify transactions that have been carried out on the platform.

But the number of bitcoin rewarded has halved every four years, while the puzzles have become more taxing for computers to solve – which has resulted in a vast increase in computing power consumption, and emissions.

Unless the world can quickly switch to cheap and renewable sources of energy, the energy cost of bitcoin will only rise.

The researchers estimated the emission would peak in 2024 because that is the point when the overall mining cost, made up of computing equipment and electricity costs, would outweigh the financial rewards of selling mined bitcoin.

The paper uses carbon emissions data by locality to work out the total Bitcoin cost, because some regions of China use much more coal power than others – overall, China’s bitcoin mining is 40 per cent powered by coal.

Bitcoin miners in northern China, where Beijing is located, are likely to be using electricity from coal-powered plants, while southern bitcoin miners are more likely to be powered by hydroelectricity.

China has committed to a 2060 net-zero carbon goal, and experts say regulations could be put in place to reduce carbon emissions from future bitcoin mining in order to achieve the goal.


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