Science 3 min read

Bitcoin's Carbon Dioxide Emission Comparable to Las Vegas

Mark Agnor /

Mark Agnor /

In a detailed analysis of Bitcoin’s carbon dioxide emission, researchers at the Technical University of Munich discovered that the cryptocurrency causes an annual CO2 footprint of 22 megatons. That’s an equivalent emission of cites such as Las Vegas or Hamburg.

Now, you’re wondering, Bitcoin is just a virtual currency, how does it produce so much carbon dioxide? Two words: energy consumption.

To execute and validate the crypto-coin transfer, an arbitrary computer in the global Bitcoin network must first solve a mathematical puzzle. The system then rewards the puzzle solver in Bitcoin.

Over the years, the computing power required to run this process – Bitcoin mining – has increased.

For example, mining the cryptocurrency for one month using advanced computer hardware would require 1,375kW of electricity. Statistics show that the required power quadrupled in 2018 alone.

As a result, the Bitcoin boom raises an essential question; how does the cryptocurrency affect the climate?

Several past studies have attempted to provide an answer. However, they have been based primarily on the number of approximations – until now.

Bitcoin’s Carbon Dioxide Emission: Collecting the Data

Bitcoin's Carbon dioxide Emission
Bitcoin Mining | Image Credit: Pixabay

For their study, the researchers analyzed the IP addresses of Bitcoin miners as well as the IPO filings of hardware manufacturers. The goal was simple; to track down the cryptocurrency’s power consumption.

First, the team calculated the power consumption of the networks, which depends on the hardware used for mining.

While different users depend on various hardware, three manufacturers control the ASIC miner market. Using their IPO filings, the team was able to calculate the market shares of the companies respective products.

Next, the study had to determine the scale of mining. How many lone miners are working from home, and how many run a large scale mining farm?

A mining farm is a professional set up. As such, it requires additional energy to cool the data center.

Thanks to recently released statistics from a public pool of miners, the researchers were able to calculate the computing power of the individual members.

Researcher at TMU and coauthor of the study, Christian Stoll said:

“In these groups, miners combine their computing power to get a quicker turn in the reward for solving puzzles – similar to people in lottery pools.”

The researchers noted that Bitcoin’s annual electricity consumption, as of November 2018, is about 46 TWh.

So, how much CO2 is released into the atmosphere with this energy generation? To answer this question, the researchers had first to solve a puzzle; the miners’ location.

According to data from the two biggest pools, miners tend to join pools in or near their home countries.

Using these statistics, the researchers discovered that 68 percent of Bitcoin network computing power is from Asia. On the other hand, European and North American countries have 17 percent and 15 percent respectively.

Conclusion of the Study

Findings from the study show that the Bitcoin system leaves an annual carbon footprint of between 22 and 22.9 megatons. In comparison, San Antonio, Vienna, and Baghdad have 19.2, 20.2, and 21.1 megatons per year, respectively.

Stoll noted:

“Naturally, bigger factors are contributing to climate change. However, the carbon footprint is big enough to make it worth discussing the possibility of regulating cryptocurrency mining in regions where power generation is especially carbon-intensive.”

Finally, the researcher suggests that more mining farms should consider linking to renewable generating capacity to reduce Bitcoin’s carbon dioxide emission.

Read More:  A Single AI’s Carbon Emission Is Nearly 5x Greater Than A Car

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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