April 18, 2021

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Report: Chinese BTC Mining To Reach 130 Million Metric Tons By 2024

3 min read

If left unchecked, China’s BTC mining industry could generate as much as 130.5 million metric tons of carbon emissions by 2024, according to a study published in the scientific journal Nature. Per 2019 aviation figures (the last year not impacted by COVID travel restrictions) this would equate to roughly 14% of the world’s annual carbon footprint from flying. 

The Nature study, “Policy assessments for the carbon emission flows and sustainability of BTC blockchain operation in China,” predicted the impact of China’s BTC mining industry through to 2024. 

The study was published by Shangrong Jiang—a member of the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing—along with six others. The researchers argued that “the growing energy consumption and associated carbon emissions of BTC mining could potentially undermine global sustainable efforts.” 

Were China’s BTC mining to reach the levels predicted by the study, its carbon emissions would exceed the carbon footprint of countries including the Czech Republic and Qatar. It would also rank in the top 10 among 182 cities and 42 industrial sectors in China. 

BTC Mining Revenues Hit Record $1.5 Billion in March

The study recommends moving away from what is described as a “punitive carbon tax policy” in China to a site regulation policy, which, the researchers claim, would be a more effective means of limiting BTC’s carbon footprint.

“Miners need power and while renewables are usually the preference due to longevity and cheaper prices, if coal is the only option provided by authorities, what choice do they have?” Jason Deane, BTC analyst at Quantum Economics, told Decrypt.

BTC’s growing thirst for energy

The study goes on to claim that without policy interventions, the annual energy consumption of the BTC blockchain in China is expected to peak at 296 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2024—over double the entire network’s current annual energy consumption, by today’s estimates.

With BTC’s energy consumption rivaling that of entire countries, Cambridge University researchers constructed a BTC Electricity Consumption Index that tracks this figure. 

CBECI
The Cambridge University BTC Electricity Consumption Index. Image: Cambridge University

Today, BTC’s estimated annual energy consumption is 137 TWh, per the Cambridge index. This means that BTC eats up more energy than the country of Argentina. What’s more, if BTC itself was a country, it would be in the top 30 countries by energy consumption. 

Using BTC’s TWh figure, it’s possible to estimate the network’s annual carbon footprint and compare it to other, more tangible impacts on the world’s carbon footprint. Last month, Decrypt reported that BTC’s carbon footprint—after factoring for renewable energy sources—was broadly equivalent to 61 billion pounds of burned coal, 9 million homes’ average annual electricity consumption, or 138 billion miles driven by a passenger vehicle. 

The Hard Truth About BTC’s Energy Consumption

But now, the problem is getting worse—at least in China, where BTC trading is outlawed but mining is fair game. China has pledged to peak its carbon emissions by 2030, but according to Quantum Economics’ Deane, China “often publicly reinforces its commitment to specific carbon reduction goals while rapidly increasing its coal-fired power generation capacity.”

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