Bitcoin mining is already known to consume more electricity than entire countries, including Argentina and the Netherlands.
Now, a new study estimates that the energy-sapping process could soon generate 130.50 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annually in China alone (which hosts more than 3/4th of cryptocurrency mining operations worldwide) — more than the entire output of the Czech Republic in 2016.
Published in Nature Communications, the study by researchers from the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences predicted that the annual energy consumption of the Bitcoin blockchain in China will peak in 2024.
From that point on, bitcoin will require approximately 297 terawatt-hours of energy and will be responsible for around 130.50 million tonnes of carbon emissions per year, the study says.
Bitcoin's Tesla boost and carbon footprint concerns
Bitcoin, the world's largest cryptocurrency, has been touted for its ability to allow secure transfers without the need for a centralized authority. A recent large endorsement from electric vehicle automaker Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk, saw the virtual currency's valuation skyrocket.
However, Bitcoin mining requires warehouses full of servers in order to solve the increasingly difficult mathematical problems that secure the currency's blockchain transactions.
As such, Tesla's move drew criticism from environmental activists who argued that Bitcoin's enormous carbon footprint goes against the electric vehicle company's work promoting renewable energy.
The new study argues that Bitcoin could greatly undermine worldwide sustainability efforts if strict regulations and policy changes are not enacted.
The researchers used computer models to predict how policy changes might alter Bitcoin's energy consumption. Based on their findings, they argue that the most effective method for tackling Bitcoin's CO2 problem is individual site regulation policies.
As an example, officials could introduce strict regulation on the cryptocurrency industry in coal-based energy regions in a bid to persuade miners to relocate to a hydro-rich region to benefit from the lower cost of surplus energy availability.
Though some argue that Bitcoin could utilize recycled energy distribution and might even push a clean energy revolution, the debate and concern about the cryptocurrency's carbon footprint will continue for years to come.