A new study indicates that mining a single dollar’s worth of Bitcoin consumes far more energy compared to mining precious metals and other rare earth materials.
Authored by Max Krause and Thabet Tolaymat for the British journal “Natural Sustainability,” the report entitled “Quantification of energy and carbon costs for mining cryptocurrencies” stated that the crypto mining industry has so far emitted between 3 million to 15 million tons of carbon over the last two years, suggesting that mining $1 worth of Bitcoin exhausts more electricity than mining precious metals or stones worth the same value. As the report noted, the only material that requires less energy consumption in order to mine was aluminum.
Furthermore, the authors working at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicated in the study that mining both Bitcoin and Monero prove to be the most energy-intensive, requiring 17 and 14 megajoules (MJ), respectively, while Litecoin and Ethereum only consume half as less.
These yielded data were then compared against the energy consumed for mining rare earth materials such as neodymium and cerium, and precious metals like gold and copper. As delineated in the report, these materials only expend nine, seven, five, and four MJ, respectively.
The figures represent an average of the data gathered over the last two-and-a-half years, spanning from January 2016 to June 2018. As the authors noted, in the same period, four major blockchains accounted for the total carbon emissions of between 3 million to 15 million tonnes.
Despite the research findings, Krause did acknowledge that the study had its shortfalls. As he stated in a BuzzFeed.News report, cryptocurrencies, and physical metals are not “functional substitutes,” that is, such comparisons will always pose a conflict. Nevertheless, Krause underscored that the goal of the self-funded study was to raise awareness regarding the potential adverse impact of crypto mining on the environment rather than to provide a point of comparison between the mined assets.
As Krause conceded, despite the results yielded from the study, mining Bitcoin still poses far less impact on the environment compared to mining precious metals which are subjected to a series of processes, including shaping, transporting, and storing, that which Bitcoin does undergo as the asset is intangible.
As it stands, protests against crypto mining on grounds of environmental argument appear to have significantly increased in recent months. According to a study published by Nature Climate Change last month, Bitcoin transactions could potentially catapult global warming past its 2-degree threshold cited under the Paris Climate Agreement.