Maintaining the Bitcoin network requires enormous amounts of energy (Image: EPA)
According to new research, cryptocurrency Bitcoin is well on the way to causing more emissions in China than the total production of many medium-sized European countries by 2024.
An analysis by researchers at Tsinghua University found that the total carbon footprint of Bitcoin mining would peak at 130 million tons of carbon by 2024.
Total carbon emissions would be higher than in countries like the Czech Republic and Qatar. If Bitcoin mining were a city in China, it would be in the top 10 in terms of energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
Lead researcher Guan Dabo calculated that Bitcoin mining would account for around 5.4 percent of China’s carbon emissions by 2024 and require 297 terawatt hours of energy.
Maintaining the Bitcoin network requires enormous amounts of energy due to the computational load required to solve the mathematical puzzles that define the Bitcoin algorithm.
Computers need to solve these puzzles in order to create new bitcoin and verify transactions that have been carried out on the platform.
However, the number of Bitcoin products being rewarded has halved every four years, while the puzzles have become increasingly difficult for computers to solve – which has resulted in a huge spike in computing power consumption and emissions.
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Unless the world can quickly switch to cheap and renewable energy sources, Bitcoin’s energy costs will only go up.
The researchers estimated the emission would peak in 2024, since by that time the total cost of mining, consisting of computer equipment and electricity costs, would outweigh the financial benefits of selling mined bitcoin.
The paper uses carbon emissions data by location to determine the total cost of bitcoin, as some regions of China consume much more coal power than others – overall, China’s bitcoin mining is 40 percent coal-powered.
Bitcoin miners in northern China, where Beijing is located, are likely to use electricity from coal-fired power plants, while southern bitcoin miners are more likely to run on hydropower.
China has committed to a net zero carbon target by 2060, and experts say regulations to reduce carbon emissions from future bitcoin mining could be put in place to meet the target.
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