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Bitcoin consumes as much water as all the baths in Britain, study claims

Cryptocurrency requires trillions of litres of water each year to cool computer servers used to mine it (iStock/ Getty Images)
Cryptocurrency requires trillions of litres of water each year to cool computer servers used to mine it (iStock/ Getty Images)

Bitcoin mining requires as much water annually as all of the baths in Britain, according to a new analysis of the cryptocurrency’s environmental impact.

Financial economist Alex de Vries, who runs the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, estimated that roughly 1.6 trillion litres of water each year is required to cool the computers used to support the cryptocurrency’s network.

Separate research from 2018 found that 1.6 trillion litres is how much bath water the British public sends down the plughole every year – enough to fill roughly 660,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

The latest analysis, which was published in the journal Cell Reports Sustainability on Wednesday, suggested that a single bitcoin transaction could use as much water as a backyard swimming pool.

“Many parts of the world are experiencing droughts, and fresh water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource,” said Mr de Vries.

“If we continue to use this valuable resource for making useless computations, I think that reality is really painful.”

The “useless computations” refer to the complex calculations required to mint new units of the cryptocurrency and verify transactions on the network. The use of water to cool the necessary hardware could be significantly reduced if miners shifted their operations underwater, with companies like Microsoft already placing some of their data centres in the ocean in order to cool them.

Earlier this month, China announced that it had begun building the world’s largest underwater data centre in order to reduce electricity and water costs.

Bitcoin has previously been criticised for its electricity consumption, with Mr de Vries’s Energy Consumption Index estimating that the cryptocurrency’s network uses roughly as much electricity as the country of Poland.

Bitcoin advocates have refuted accusations relating to bitcoin’s electricity consumption, claiming that miners are increasingly turning to renewable energy sources as the costs of wind and solar drop.

A recently published study suggests bitcoin mining could actually help speed up the transition to renewable energy, as solar and wind energy installations could earn hundreds of millions of dollars mining bitcoin during periods of excess electricity generation.

”These rewards can act as an incentive for miners to adopt clean energy sources, which can lead to combined positive effects on climate change mitigation, improved renewable power capacity, and additional profits during pre-commercial operation of wind and solar farms,” said Apoorv Lal, a doctoral student at Cornell University who was involved in the research.