What is the Carbon Footprint of a Bitcoin? Just how much carbon dioxide do we produce when we mine a bitcoin? It’s becoming an increasingly important question. After all, it’s great to disrupt an inefficient and sometimes corrupt incumbent economic system, but most of us would rather not do it at the expense of the planet. The bitcoin network is stuck in a circle that drives up its power usage.

People tend to put more computing power on the network so that they can make more more bitcoins. The software underpinning the network reacts by changing a parameter that makes it more difficult to solve the mathematical problem needed to solve a bitcoin block. Because it’s harder to solve the problem, people add even more computing power, and so on. As this cycle increases, it takes more electricity to mine a bitcoin.

The hashing power of the network surpassed the world’s top supercomputers almost a year ago, and things have moved along quite a bit since then.

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Some might call this a vicious circle. Nick Gogerty, who conceived a coin for trading solar energy production called solarcoincalls it the Red Queen problem. In the Queen’s race everyone runs faster, but you never get ahead,” he says.

All of the participants are co-adapting.

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You have to keep adapting to keep up. Based in Brisbane, Australia, Lane is also the founder of Bitcarbon.

That site contains his method for tracking bitcoin-based carbon emissions. This makes it very difficult to ascertain the true carbon cost, because there are so many different types of equipment running the mining software. Still, it doesn’t stop him trying. That electricity cost will naturally vary with the price of a bitcoin.

The result is that for every megawatt MW of electricity spent mining bitcoins, 0. The method maps these figures against average electricity prices, to produce an average carbon intensity of 6.

Lane believes that the estimates could be lower than the reality. For one thing, it doesn’t account for the fact that miners might be willing to spend more electricity mining a bitcoin than the current value of that coin, in the hope that it may increase.

Mining for answers Another way to look at carbon output for bitcoin mining is to go and ask a professional miner. If anyone should know how many hashes and therefore how much power it takes to compute a bitcoin, it’s an institutional miner that makes a business of turning electricity into cryptocurrency.