Crypto Mining Consumes More Energy Than Mineral Mining

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The peer-reviewed journal, Nature published a study on November 5, 2018 that suggested that cryptocurrency mining consumes more energy than mineral mining when measured according to the market value of the produced digital and physical assets, with one exception.

The study was conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). In it, scientists compared the energy required to mine Bitcoin (BTC), Ethereum (ETH), Litecoin (LTC), and Monero (XMR) to the costs for extracting aluminum, copper, gold, platinum, and rare earth oxides (REO) from physical mines.

This study covered the period from Jan.1, 2016, to June 30, 2018. During that time, Bitcoin mining required 17 megajoules (MJ) to produce one USD in value. Ethereum and Litecoin each required 7 MJ, and Monero required 14 MJ in electricity to generate a dollar in value.

By comparison, copper required just 4 MJ in energy to produce a dollar in value. Gold required 5 MJ, platinum required 7 MJ, and REO’s required 9 MJ in energy on average per dollar of value produced. Aluminum was the outlier of the group, requiring 122 MJ of energy to produce a dollar in value. In terms of energy costs, producing all but one of these metals was more efficient than all of the cryptocurrencies tested. In addition, digital mining costs for proof-of-work (POW) cryptocurrencies tend to increase with time, as more complicated calculations require more energy to run.

Crypto mining power consumption compared to ‘real’ mining
Power Consumption: Crypto mining vs physical mining. Source: nature.com

Regarding POW coins, mining the tested currencies would produce 3–15 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions over a three-year period. For comparison, gas-powered motor vehicles in the United States produced approximately 1,099 million metric tons of CO2 in 2018, and diesel vehicles produced 461 MMmt of CO2 in that same year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). While the study may lead one to conclude that crypto-mining produces a substantial amount of greenhouse gases, the total projected amounts to less than 1% of the CO2 produced by motor vehicles in the US, and far less than that worldwide.

In addition, Bitcoin mining is generally limited to regions where electricity is inexpensive to produce, such as Iceland, where much of the energy production comes from renewable sources. And, proof-of-stake mining (POS mining) requires very little energy by comparison. For these reasons, it’s likely that the study’s data may be skewed.

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