The hype around cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin, Ethereum and Ripple, fuels speculation and a potential bubble that might burst around these decentralized digital currencies. One of the biggest issues might not be a future crash, but the very real and immediate problem of how much electricity it takes to produce new units of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin. The process of generating new Bitcoins is called “mining,” and according to some experts, Bitcoin mining’s current global energy consumption exceeds that of 159 countries combined (more than Ireland or Nigeria) or equal to Denmark alone.
This will turn into a big problem. Some Bitcoin “miners” are coping by setting up “mining farms” in countries where electricity is cheap and plentiful. Others, like Manitoba, Canada-based entrepreneur Bruce Hardy, are using the massive amounts of heat generated by the computers that mine Bitcoin to provide warmth for food plants growing under the same roof. Watch this short CBC video on this project:
Hardy is president of Myera Group, a company whose mission is to develop sustainable food systems using technology. Hardy also has a software company, and has been mining Bitcoins for the last couple of years, using about 30 computers in a readapted 20,000-square-foot building just west of Winnipeg.
The project has been mining Bitcoins for the last couple of years, using about 30 computers in a re-adapted 20,000-square-foot building just west of Winnipeg. This building also houses the company’s aquaculture system, which consists of basil and lettuce plants on the second floor, and 800 Arctic char swimming in vats on the first floor. Nutrient-rich water from these fish vats (think fish poop) are then pumped upstairs to nourish these plants, which are being warmed by the heat generated by the Bitcoin mining hardware.
Previously, the company had been paying for air-conditioning to cool down the specialized hardware (application-specific integrated circuit or ASICs) that’s required to mine Bitcoin, but he soon realized that he could save money by using that heat for other purposes. As Hardy explains on the CBC:
When bitcoin came, they were an excellent proxy for what a server could do in terms of emulating heat, and whether we could use that heat for agricultural purposes.
For now, it’s too early to predict where an intriguing project such as this may go, considering that Bitcoin’s unsustainable rate of energy consumption is likely to increase in the coming months.
However the design principle is key here, where there is no such thing as “waste,” by re-purposing that heat from Bitcoin mining to help grow food crops, there’s at least the possibility of closing that loop to produce something useful. More details can be found here at CBC.
Mark van Engelen is founder Nya Sustainability Consulting, a consulting firm helping organizations implement sustainability. Services include sustainability strategy development, zero waste planning, GHG emissions calculating and planning, energy/water management, employee engagement and guidance in B Corp and carbon neutral certification.