Published: 14 April 2021

Joint research by University of Surrey's Professor Yu Xiong warns vast bitcoin mining in China could derail climate targets

The paper titled 'Policy assessments for the carbon emission flows and sustainability of Bitcoin blockchain operation in China’, published in the peer-review journal Nature Communications explores the growing energy consumption and associated carbon emission of bitcoin mining.

Bitcoin Mining

The joint research by the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Tsinghua University, Cornell University and the University of Surrey used a simulated carbon emission model to track the emission flows of bitcoin blockchain operations in China.

“Due to the proximity to manufacturers of specialized hardware and access to cheap electricity, majority of the mining process has been conducted in China as miners in the country account for more than 75% of the Bitcoin network’s hashing power.” The study states an estimated 40% of China’s bitcoin mines are powered with coal, while the rest use renewable energy. However, due to the vast size of the coal plants, they could end up undermining emissions goals. By 2024, China’s bitcoin mines will generate 130.5million metric tons of carbon emissions and will exceed the total energy consumption level of Italy and Saudi Arabia in 2016.

The carbon emission pattern of the bitcoin industry would become an increasing threat to China’s greenhouse emission reduction target and “without any policy interventions the carbon emission pattern of the bitcoin blockchain will become a non-negligible barrier against the sustainability efforts of China”.

The researchers said a carbon tax would be relatively ineffective for bitcoin, and suggested 'site regulation' policies as an alternative.

The research paper continues to gain traction and has been cited in more than 100 global news outlets.

With thanks to Professor Yu Xiong, Chair of Business Analytics, Surrey Business School, Associate Dean International and Director of the Centre for Innovation and Commercialization, University of Surrey.

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