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A new study has just raised the possibility that bitcoin’s carbon footprint may not be as large as it was imagined. While Digiconomist, the data project behind the Bitcoin Energy Consumption Index, estimated that cryptocurrency mining generates 37.73 megatons of carbon dioxide a year, in turn, the new study makes a estimate, which would be 17.29 megatons issued in 2018.

There’s yet another study that is halfway there. This one estimates emissions of 22.9 megatons of carbon dioxide by bitcoin mining. In terms of proportion, it is almost the same footprint as in a city as Rio de Janeiro.

The new discovery is important because it shows a less concerning scenario about bitcoin’s carbon footprint, which is often an important issue of discussion. Bitcoin mining works by solving complicated equations. Basically, the first person with the resolution of the problem receives the newly created bitcoin. And this logic requires a very powerful computational hardware that consumes a lot of electric power.

How the new study sees Bitcoin’s carbon footprint

Unlike previous studies, the new work considered both the efficiency of mining equipment and the dependence on fossil fuels in various locations. The study was done based on the number of mining attempts for a bitcoin block in that region. The bitcoin is heavily mined in China, for example, a country that generates more electricity from coal than any other country in the world.

Therefore, instead of basing emissions calculations on China’s total carbon production, the researchers considered the fact that the bitcoin mined in Sichuan province would probably be ‘greener’ due to the “great use of energy obtained via hydroelectric plant”. Besides, China may be reducing its bitcoin production.

I won’t be surprised if another study is published a few months from now, with drastically higher or lower numbers.

According to the research co-author’s Susanne Köhler, no one knows the exact location of the mining. However, she points out that they intended to make clear the “uncertainties of such explicit estimates and provide a range of possible outcomes”.

These results are still very difficult to declare with absolute certainty, says Ethan Lou, author of the book Once a Bitcoin Miner, to Gizmodo. Lou, one of the first bitcoin investors and founder of a cryptocurrency mining startup, compared the bitcoin to the oil industry. He also wrote to the Guardian that “the environmental footprint of the bitcoin will haunt you”.

 “I won’t be surprised if another study is published a few months from now, with drastically higher or lower numbers”, he said by email. The reason, according to Ethan, is that accurate location information, types of machines used and electricity sources are very evasive. “The methods are constantly being refined”.