Analysis | Published:

Quantification of energy and carbon costs for mining cryptocurrencies

Nature Sustainabilityvolume 1pages711718 (2018) | Download Citation


There are now hundreds of cryptocurrencies in existence and the technological backbone of many of these currencies is blockchain—a digital ledger of transactions. The competitive process of adding blocks to the chain is computation-intensive and requires large energy input. Here we demonstrate a methodology for calculating the minimum power requirements of several cryptocurrency networks and the energy consumed to produce one US dollar’s (US$) worth of digital assets. From 1 January 2016 to 30 June 2018, we estimate that mining Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin and Monero consumed an average of 17, 7, 7 and 14 MJ to generate one US$, respectively. Comparatively, conventional mining of aluminium, copper, gold, platinum and rare earth oxides consumed 122, 4, 5, 7 and 9 MJ to generate one US$, respectively, indicating that (with the exception of aluminium) cryptomining consumed more energy than mineral mining to produce an equivalent market value. While the market prices of the coins are quite volatile, the network hashrates for three of the four cryptocurrencies have trended consistently upward, suggesting that energy requirements will continue to increase. During this period, we estimate mining for all 4 cryptocurrencies was responsible for 3–15 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.

Data availability

All data analysed here are included in this published article (and its Supplementary Information) or publicly available online as noted.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Change history

  • 16 November 2018

    In the version of this Analysis originally published, in the paragraph that starts “On the basis of our 2017 estimates…” the word ‘trillion’ was mistakenly used three times in relation to rates of energy use; it should have read ‘billion’. This has now been corrected.


  1. 1.

    Extance, A. Bitcoin and beyond. Nature 526, 21–23 (2015).

  2. 2.

    Vranken, H. Sustainability of bitcoin and blockchains. Curr. Opin. Environ. Sustain. 28, 1–9 (2017).

  3. 3.

    Catalini, C. & Gans, J. S. Some simple economics of the blockchain. SSRN Electron. J., (2016).

  4. 4.

    Hutson, M. Can bitcoin’s cryptographic technology help save the environment? Science, (2017).

  5. 5.

    Zheng, Z., Xie, S., Dai, H., Chen, X. & Wang, H. An overview of blockchain technology: architecture, consensus, and future trends. In Proc. IEEE 6th International Congress of Big Data 557–564 (2017).

  6. 6.

    Houy, N. The Bitcoin mining game. Ledger 1, 53–68 (2016).

  7. 7.

    Kroll, J. A., Davey, I. C. & Felten, E. W. The economics of Bitcoin mining or, Bitcoin in the presence of adversaries. In Proc. 12th Workshop on the Economics of Information Security (WEIS) 1–21 (2013).

  8. 8.

    IRS Virtual Currency Guidance: Virtual Currency Is Treated as Property for U.S. Federal Tax Purposes; General Rules for Property Transactions Apply. IRS Virtual Currency Guidance, (2014).

  9. 9.

    Becker, J. et al. in The Economics of Information Security and Privacy (ed. Böhme, R.) 135–156 (Springer, Berlin, 2013).

  10. 10.

    Gipp, B., Meuschke, N., & Gernandt, A. Decentralized trusted timestamping using the crypto currency bitcoin. Preprint at (2015).

  11. 11.

    De Vries, A. Bitcoin’s growing energy problem. Joule 2, 801–805 (2018).

  12. 12.

    Malone, D. & O’Dwyer, K. J. Bitcoin mining and its energy footprint. In Proc. 25th IJoint IET Irish Signals & Systems Conference 2014 and 2014 China-Ireland International Conference on Information and Communications Technologies (ISSC 2014/CIICT 2014) 280–285 (2014).

  13. 13.

    Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index (Digiconomist, accessed 21 January 2018);

  14. 14.

    Bevand, M. Op Ed: Bitcoin Miners Consume A Reasonable Amount of Energy — And It’s All Worth It. Bitcoin Magazine (2017).

  15. 15.

    Mudd, G. M. Global trends in gold mining: towards quantifying environmental and resource sustainability. Resour. Policy 32, 42–56 (2007).

  16. 16.

    Norgate, T. & Haque, N. Using life cycle assessment to evaluate some environmental impacts of gold production. J. Clean. Prod. 29–30, 53–63 (2012).

  17. 17.

    McCook, H. An Order-of-Magnitude Estimate of the Relative Sustainability of the Bitcoin Network Vol. 3 (2014).

  18. 18.

    CoinMarketCap Top 100 Cryptocurrencies by Market Capitalization (accessed 26 April 2018);

  19. 19.

    What is IOTA? Documentation (IOTA Foundation, 2018);

  20. 20.

    XRP The Digital Asset for Payments (Ripple XRP, 2018);

  21. 21.

    Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Monero Hashrate Historical Chart (BitInfoCharts, accessed 23 January 2018);

  22. 22.

    Bitcoin Hash Rate (Blockchain Luxembourg, accessed 21 January 2018);

  23. 23.

    Ethereum Network HashRate Growth Rate (Etherscan, accessed 25 April 2018);

  24. 24.

    Monero Private Digital Currency (Monero, accessed 24 April 2018);

  25. 25.

    Sompolinsky, Y. & Zohar, A. Bitcoin’s underlying incentives. Commun. ACM 61, 46–53 (2018).

  26. 26.

    Magaki, I., Khazraee, M., Gutierrez, L. V. & Taylor, M. B. ASIC clouds: specializing the datacenter. In Proc. 2016 43rd International Symposium on Computer Architecture 178–190 (2016).

  27. 27.

    Electricity Consumption. The World Factbook (US Central Intelligence Agency, accessed 2018);

  28. 28.

    Ethereum Energy Consumption Index (beta) (Digiconomist, accessed 21 January 2018);

  29. 29.

    Smith, N. Bitcoin is the new gold. Bloomberg (2018).

  30. 30.

    Malmo, C. Ethereum is already using a small country’s worth of electricity. VICE (2017).

  31. 31.

    Antminer L3 ++. Mining/BitMain (CryptoCompare, 2017);

  32. 32.

    GPU & CPU Benchmarks for Monero mining (Monero Benchmarks, accessed 30 January 2018);

  33. 33.

    Glaister, B. J. & Mudd, G. M. The environmental costs of platinum–PGM mining and sustainability: is the glass half-full or half-empty? Miner. Eng. 23, 438–450 (2010).

  34. 34.

    Northey, S., Haque, N. & Mudd, G. Using sustainability reporting to assess the environmental footprint of copper mining. J. Clean. Prod. 40, 118–128 (2013).

  35. 35.

    Sverdrup, H. U., Ragnarsdottir, K. V. & Koca, D. Aluminium for the future: modelling the global production, market supply, demand, price and long term development of the global reserves. Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 103, 139–154 (2015).

  36. 36.

    Balomenos, E., Panias, D. & Paspaliaris, I. Energy and exergy analysis of the primary aluminum production processes: a review on current and future sustainability. Miner. Process. Extr. Metall. Rev. 32, 69–89 (2011).

  37. 37.

    Weng, Z., Haque, N., Mudd, G. M. & Jowitt, S. M. Assessing the energy requirements and global warming potential of the production of rare earth elements. J. Clean. Prod. 139, 1282–1297 (2016).

  38. 38.

    Mineral Commodity Summaries 2018. US Geological Survey (US Government Publishing Office, 2018);

  39. 39.

    Malla, S. CO2 emissions from electricity generation in seven Asia-Pacific and North American countries: a decomposition analysis. Energy Policy 37, 1–9 (2009).

  40. 40.

    Lampert, A., Harney, A. & Goh, B. Chinese bitcoin miners eye sites in energy-rich Canada. Reuters (2018).

  41. 41.

    Peck, M. E. Why the biggest bitcoin mines are in China. IEEE Spectrum (2017).

  42. 42.

    Bitcoin Block Reward Halving Countdown (Bitcoinblockhalf, accessed 26 April 2018);

  43. 43.

    Hurlburt, G. F. & Bojanova, I. Bitcoin: benefit or curse? IT Prof. 16, 10–15 (2014).

Download references


The authors acknowledge the assistance of D. Faraone in locating and collecting cryptonetwork data. There was no funding for this research. M.J.K. is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Post-Doctoral Research Participant at the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Research & Development. T.T. is an Environmental Engineer at the EPA’s Office of Research & Development. This manuscript was conceived and developed on personal time. No government funding, equipment or time was used to produce this document. The manuscript has not been subjected to the Agency’s internal review, therefore, the opinions expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not reflect the official positions and policies of the US EPA.

Author information


  1. Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, Cincinnati, OH, USA

    • Max J. Krause
  2. Cincinnati, OH, USA

    • Thabet Tolaymat


  1. Search for Max J. Krause in:

  2. Search for Thabet Tolaymat in:


M.J.K. and T.T. conceived the manuscript. M.J.K. aggregated and analysed the data and drafted the manuscript. T.T. provided writing contributions to the manuscript.

Competing interests

M.J.K. declares financial holdings of less than US$5,000 of BTC, ETH, XMR, LTC, MIOTA and other cryptocurrencies. T.T. declares no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Max J. Krause.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Data Set

    Data used in analysis, Supplementary Tables 1–19, Supplementary Figures 1–2

About this article

Publication history