Bitcoin mining consumed 1.6 trillion litres of water worldwide in 2021.
A single Bitcoin transaction could use the same amount of clean water needed to fill a garden swimming pool, according to a new study on the world's most popular cryptocurrency. According to New Scientist, Alex de Vries at the VU Amsterdam School of Business and Economics in the Netherlands calculated that Bitcoin mining, used in part to create new Bitcoins, consumed 1.6 trillion litres of water worldwide in 2021. Broken down per transaction, that means a single Bitcoin trade consumed approximately 16,000 litres of clean water, which is enough to fill a small swimming pool.
Now, experts believe that the use of clean water in Bitcoin mining will rise to 2.3 trillion litres this year. According to the study published in the journal Cell Reports Sustainability, this sheer scale of Bitcoin mining's water consumption could impact drinking water if it continues to operate without regulation, especially in countries that are already battling water scarcity, including the United States. This is "increasingly hard to defend," said Mr Alex.
According to the study, mining Bitcoin requires huge computing power to solve mathematical equations on the internet. Water, which is evaporated, is used to cool the computers at large data centres and also to lower the temperature of coal-and-gas-fired power plants that also power Bitcoin mining computers.
"The mining devices are effectively just generating random numbers all day long, and they just throw them all away and nothing - nothing - useful comes out," Mr Alex wrote in the paper. "It's just one backyard swimming pool going, going up in the air, literally evaporating on average per Bitcoin transaction," he added.
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Notably, according to Euronews, the environmental impact of mining Bitcoin has been widely documented, but this is the first assessment of its water use and wider environmental impact. Study authors believe that with the rise in Bitcoin price, its water consumption will also increase to 2,300 gigalitres, which is more than 40% compared to 2021. Mr Alex argued that using renewable energy instead of electricity would not be a solution to reducing Bitcoin's carbon footprint.
However, in the study, he also wrote that if Bitcoin changed its technology to be more environmentally friendly, the crypto's environmental damage would reverse overnight. "If you make the change you cut the majority of everything: the carbon emissions, water footprint, electronic waste, it all goes out the window overnight. Literally, the moment you make the software change, it's all gone," Mr Alex said. "Bitcoin is responsible for half a per cent of global electricity consumption, [and] we could cut this by tomorrow," he added.