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Decoding Bitcoin's environmental toll: How single transaction uses enough clean water to fill a swimming pool

Study reveals alarming water consumption and environmental impact of Bitcoin mining, highlighting concerns and proposing potential solutions, including a shift to more eco-friendly technology.

Decoding Bitcoin's environmental toll: How single transaction uses enough clean water to fill a swimming pool snt
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First Published Dec 1, 2023, 5:19 PM IST

In a recent study on Bitcoin, Alex de Vries from the VU Amsterdam School of Business and Economics revealed that the process of Bitcoin mining, a crucial element in generating new Bitcoins, consumed a staggering 1.6 trillion liters of water globally in 2021. Breaking it down, each individual Bitcoin transaction was found to utilize around 16,000 liters of clean water, equivalent to the volume needed to fill a small garden swimming pool.

As per the predictions for the current year, experts anticipate a surge in the use of clean water for Bitcoin mining, reaching a substantial 2.3 trillion liters. Published in the journal Cell Reports Sustainability, the study warns that if left unchecked, this immense water consumption associated with Bitcoin mining could have severe consequences on drinking water resources, particularly in countries already grappling with water scarcity, such as the United States. Alex expressed concern, stating that the current scenario is becoming increasingly challenging to justify without proper regulation.

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Environmental Consequences

The study highlights that the process of mining Bitcoin involves extensive computational power to solve complex mathematical equations online. Water plays a dual role in this operation: it is employed for cooling the large data center computers and reducing the temperature of coal-and-gas-fired power plants that supply the energy for Bitcoin mining. The evaporation of water serves as a crucial component in maintaining the efficient functioning of the system.

"The mining devices are effectively just generating random numbers all day long, and they just throw them all away and nothing - nothing - useful comes out," Alex wrote in the paper. "It's just one backyard swimming pool going, going up in the air, literally evaporating on average per Bitcoin transaction," he added.

Environmental Impact Beyond Electricity Consumption

Euronews reports that while the environmental consequences of Bitcoin mining have been extensively studied, this marks the inaugural evaluation of its water utilization and broader ecological effects. Researchers posit that, with the escalating value of Bitcoin, its water consumption is anticipated to surge to 2,300 gigaliters, marking a substantial 40 percent increase from the levels recorded in 2021. Alex contends that opting for renewable energy over electricity is not a viable solution for mitigating Bitcoin's carbon footprint.

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A Call for Technological Change

In a notable observation, the study suggests that a fundamental change in Bitcoin's technology could reverse its environmental damage. Mr. Alex contends that a shift towards more environmentally friendly practices could eliminate a significant portion of carbon emissions, water footprint, and electronic waste associated with Bitcoin mining. The potential for rapid improvement is underscored, with the assertion that making a software change could result in an immediate positive impact, cutting Bitcoin's contribution to global electricity consumption by half a percent.

"If you make the change you cut the majority of everything: the carbon emissions, water footprint, electronic waste, it all goes out the window overnight. Literally, the moment you make the software change, it's all gone," Alex said. "Bitcoin is responsible for half a per cent of global electricity consumption, [and] we could cut this by tomorrow," he added.

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