Recent research has found that Bitcoin (BTC) mining uses 7 times less energy than aluminum mining. Specifically, it takes 7 times as much energy to produce $1 worth of aluminum than $1 worth of Bitcoin. Additionally, the study compared the costs of mining Ethereum (ETH), Litecoin (LTC) and Monero (XMR) to that of gold, platinum, copper and rare earth oxide.
Metal and Cryptocurrency Mining: How Much Energy Do You Need?
To begin with, researchers gathered cryptocurrency mining data from January 1, 2016, through June 30, 2018.
Energy Needed to Mine $1 Worth of Cryptocurrency:
- Bitcoin (BTC): 17 megajoules (MJ)
- Monero (XMR): 14 MJ
- Ethereum (ETH): 7 MJ
- Litecoin (LTC): 7 MJ
Energy Needed to Mine $1 Worth of Common Metals:
- Aluminum: 122 MJ
- Rare earth oxides: 9 MJ
- Platinum: 7 MJ
- Gold: 5 MJ
- Copper: 4 MJ
Bitcoin Mining Requires a Lot of Energy—and so Does Aluminum
It takes more energy to product Bitcoin than copper, gold, platinum, and rare earth oxides. The one exception is aluminum mining. In fact, bitcoin mining takes seven times less energy than traditional aluminum mining.
Why Does Aluminum Mining Take so Much Energy?
As shown in the new study, making aluminum is an energy-intensive process that requires a ton of electricity.
Much of this has to do with the chemical makeup of aluminum. To begin with, the bond between aluminum and oxygen is much stronger than other raw metals. That means it takes a lot of energy and effort to extract the raw building blocks needed to make aluminum metal.
But even after you get the basic ore all separated out, you’ve still got a long ways to go. From there, aluminum plants put the ore through a process called “smelting.”
By the time you’ve pulled out raw aluminum ore from its natural state and then smelted into a usable process, you’ve expended tons of electricity. Much more than other mining others types of metals and cryptocurrency.
The Environmental Cost of Cryptocurrency
This study shows both sides of the coin. Yes, cryptocurrency mining is relatively energy-intensive. But at the same time, it’s already more sustainable than other industries that the world relies on far more heavily.
Critics have long raised concerns over crypto’s environmental impact. For example, Bitcoin’s annual carbon footprint is bigger than Switzerland’s. Basically, cryptocurrency mining uses up a lot of energy because of proof-of-work, the algorithm that lets the blockchain technology that Bitcoin uses, work.
But, as concerns over crypto’s energy demands heighten, some are looking for solutions. For example, Ethereum has talked about switching to proof of stake instead of proof of work. This approach would theoretically require less computing and therefore less energy.
As it stands, Bitcoin mining takes 7x as much energy as aluminum mining, but less than other common metals.