New Research Says Bitcoin Mining Uses 278% More Water Than in 2020

The annual water footprint of bitcoin has been rapidly increasing due to the extensive water usage in mining the cryptocurrency. According to Alex de Vries, a doctoral candidate at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, mining operations are projected to consume 591 billion gallons of water this year, marking a 278% surge from 2020. The growing water footprint of bitcoin has raised concerns, particularly in regions such as the western US and Kazakhstan where water scarcity is a pressing issue.

The rise in water usage can be attributed to the energy-intensive process of mining. Computers are used to solve complex calculations for generating new bitcoin tokens, and water is essential for cooling the servers and air-conditioning systems used in these operations. Additionally, power plants relied upon by miners also contribute to water consumption indirectly. The excessive use of water not only leads to evaporation but also strains groundwater supplies.

To calculate the indirect water usage, De Vries analyzed data from large-scale bitcoin operations in the US and compared it with the water intensity of electric generation on specific grids. When factoring in direct usage, the total water footprint of US Bitcoin miners is estimated to be equivalent to the average annual water consumption of approximately 300,000 US households, comparable to a city like Washington, DC. De Vries recommends that miners relocate their operations to areas with renewable energy sources to mitigate the impact on water resources.

There is some uncertainty regarding the exact water footprint of bitcoin mining, as different studies have produced varying estimates. A UN study from October reported a footprint of 255 billion gallons in 2021, significantly lower than De Vries’ estimate of 415 billion for the same year.

Historically, bitcoin mining has faced criticism for its high energy consumption and environmental impact. The rapid surge in water usage adds to these concerns and highlights the need for sustainable mining practices in the cryptocurrency industry.

It is essential for stakeholders to prioritize responsible water usage and environmental conservation in bitcoin mining to ensure the long-term sustainability of the industry. Additionally, continued research and data transparency are crucial in accurately assessing and addressing the environmental impact of cryptocurrency mining.

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