Life cycle assessment of behind-the-meter Bitcoin mining at US power plant

Volumen:     |  Pages:     |  Year of Publication:  2021  | License:  CC BY 4.0

What is the objective?

The aim of this study is the environmental impact evaluation of behind-the-meter Bitcoin mining using LCA methodology.

Our Short Summary.

The study conducts a Life Cycle Assessment of a natural gas power plant that produces 88,840 metric tons of CO2-eq annually to mine Bitcoin behind-the-meter. If the powerplant directed 100% of its electricity production for mining Bitcoin, it would emit 656,983 metric tons of CO2-eq . In behind-the-meter Bitcoin mining, 79% to the major GHG emissions are attributed to the mining itself. This is especially relevant for the New York State as it aims to curb 85% of GHG emissions…

Why you should read it!

In this study, a refreshing single case study analysis using LCA methodology of behind-the-meter Bitcoin mining is presented. This paper is relevant for policy-makers, LCA practitioners and blockchain and Bitcoin users.

Original Abstract

Purpose

Due to its highly energy-intensive process, Bitcoin has attracted the global attention of climate research and media. At the time of this submission, behind-the-meter Bitcoin mining has gained significant traction; however, not a single environmental impact assessment has been conducted on this type of operation. This study seeks to fill the gap, applying the established Life Cycle Assessment methodology to estimate the environmental footprint of a single case study.

Method

A life cycle assessment methodology of a natural gas power plant mining Bitcoin behind-the-meter in the state of New York following the ISO 14040 guidelines was applied. The functional unit (FU) is defined as the attributed generation capacity of 14 MW over the course of a regular full-calendar year in the attributional model. The FU is scaled to 22 MW and 104 MW in the predictive models to represent planned expansion. The TRACI 2.1 method was applied to characterize the environmental impact. The environmental impact categories considered in this study included global warming, acidification, smog formation, and particulate emissions.

Results and discussion

Located in New York State, Greenidge LLC, a natural gas power plant produces an estimated 88,440 metric tons of CO2-eq per year to mine Bitcoin behind-the-meter. Annual emissions would total 656,983 metric tons of CO2-eq if the plant devotes 100% of its generation to Bitcoin mining. The primary driver of greenhouse gas emissions is the generation of electricity itself, accounting for ~ 79% of the total emissions. At full capacity, annual emissions are comparable to the annual emissions of 140,000 passenger vehicles or the emissions resulting from the burning of 600 million lb of coal. Further, additional planned cases could produce an estimated 1.9 million tons tCO2-eq per annum.

Conclusion

Behind-the-meter Bitcoin mining makes the power plant a significant contributor to global warming at a time when New York State is attempting to radically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 85% by 2050 and to have 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040. The environmental impact of this business model is not limited to individual sites but is spread out over upstream impacts as well. In combination, we see that behind-the-meter Bitcoin mining not only goes against local climate initiatives but also poses a significant danger to national initiatives due to feasible scalability, caused by an availability of existing infrastructure and favorable financials.

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