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Bitcoin's growing e-waste problem

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Abstract

Bitcoin’s increasing energy consumption has triggered a passionate debate about the sustainability of the digital currency. And yet, most studies have thus far ignored that Bitcoin miners cycle through a growing amount of short-lived hardware that could exacerbate the growth in global electronic waste. E-waste represents a growing threat to our environment, from toxic chemicals and heavy metals leaching into soils, to air and water pollutions caused by improper recycling. Here we present a methodology to estimate Bitcoin’s e-waste and find that it adds up to 30.7 metric kilotons per annum, per May 2021. This number is comparable to the amount of small IT and telecommunication equipment waste produced by a country like the Netherlands. At peak Bitcoin price levels seen early in 2021, the annual amount of e-waste may grow beyond 64.4 metric kilotons in the midterm, which highlights the dynamic trend if the Bitcoin price rises further. Moreover, the demand for mining hardware already today disrupts the global semiconductor supply chain. The strategies we present may help to mitigate Bitcoin’s growing e-waste problem.

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... The removal of the intermediary of miners or validators promises to solve (or at least mitigate) several problems associated with them, e.g. mining races [4], centralisation [5], miner extractable value [6], and negative externalities [7] and allows for a fee-less architecture. However, the parallelism involved in adding new transactions to the ledger means that consensus must be found on a "wider" subgraph than just the longest chain or the heaviest sub-tree. ...
... In this section, we introduce our protocol's data structure concepts. To replicate a certain content over the distributed network, a node must wrap this content in a block 4 However, when the content is simply transactions, we require a block to contain only one transaction in its payload. This assumption is made for sake of a better presentation and can be relaxed, such that blocks contain more than one transaction. ...
... wherex is a transaction and nodeID(x) identifies the issuing node. 4. In prior works, we refer to this object as a message. ...
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... The exodus is also impacting opportunities for sustainable livelihoods, for example in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where local people are outcompeted by bitcoin miners for access to cheap renewable energy [21]. As mining operations use vast amounts of highly specialised and short-lived hardware, obsolete equipment is likely to cause additional damage to the environment and human health, especially in developing areas where much of this hazardous electronic waste (e-waste) is disposed [22]. ...
... Bitcoin's global network of tailored ASIC units, more powerful than all the world's super-computers put together many times over, cannot be repurposed to do anything else, besides running the SHA-256 g hash function used to mine a cryptocurrency that few will ever use, beyond short term speculation. Redundant units created around 30.7 kilotons of e-waste in 2021 [22], much of which was disposed of in developing countries [27,28,22]. Identifying redundant ASIC units as waste is difficult, which causes enforcement challenges with regards to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal (1992). ...
... Bitcoin's global network of tailored ASIC units, more powerful than all the world's super-computers put together many times over, cannot be repurposed to do anything else, besides running the SHA-256 g hash function used to mine a cryptocurrency that few will ever use, beyond short term speculation. Redundant units created around 30.7 kilotons of e-waste in 2021 [22], much of which was disposed of in developing countries [27,28,22]. Identifying redundant ASIC units as waste is difficult, which causes enforcement challenges with regards to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal (1992). ...
Preprint
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... The exodus is also impacting opportunities for sustainable livelihoods, for example in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) where local people are outcompeted by bitcoin miners for access to cheap renewable energy [21]. As mining operations use vast amounts of highly specialised and short-lived hardware, obsolete equipment is likely to cause additional damage to the environment and human health, especially in developing areas where much of this hazardous electronic waste (e-waste) is disposed [22]. ...
... Bitcoin's global network of tailored ASIC units, more powerful than all the world's super-computers put together many times over, cannot be repurposed to do anything else, besides running the SHA-256 5 hash function used to mine a cryptocurrency that few will ever use, beyond short term speculation. Redundant units created around 30.7 kilotons of e-waste in 2021 [22], much of which was disposed of in developing countries [27,28,22]. Identifying redundant ASIC units as waste is difficult, which causes enforcement challenges with regards to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal (1992). ...
... Bitcoin's global network of tailored ASIC units, more powerful than all the world's super-computers put together many times over, cannot be repurposed to do anything else, besides running the SHA-256 5 hash function used to mine a cryptocurrency that few will ever use, beyond short term speculation. Redundant units created around 30.7 kilotons of e-waste in 2021 [22], much of which was disposed of in developing countries [27,28,22]. Identifying redundant ASIC units as waste is difficult, which causes enforcement challenges with regards to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal (1992). ...
Article
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... Renewable energy is a long term plan and not the only way to achieve sustainability, and it comes with its own set of challenges (Al Kez et al., 2022). There is a high potential to accelerate progress toward sustainability by eliminating resource waste and ensuring that investments in data storage infrastructure yield maximum value (Vries and Stoll, 2021). Minimizing dark data storage and employing modern tape systems, for example, can help to speed up progress toward sustainability by lowering energy use and CO 2 emissions (Cooke et al., 2021). ...
... The analysis is first performed assuming that all the data is stored on disk drives, considering power consumption determined in step II. In the second scenario, 80% of the data to be stored is designated as archival, with 43% of this data to be stored on business storage drives and 57% of replicate data to be migrated to tape storage (Vries and Stoll, 2021). Finally, the share of energy consumption due to dark, redundant, and crucial data storage is calculated from data available in (Veritas, 2015) and (Veritas, 2020), based on the premise that each data type represents 54%, 32%, and 14% of the current global data storage, respectively. ...
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... The letter from Congress of the United States to the EPA [9] claimed that people living near crypto mining facilities are suffering from the air, water, and noise pollution. They refer to the research [11], [12] by de Vries et al. They requested the EPA to evaluate the compatibility of cryptocurrency mining facilities with the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. ...
... The ASIC mining devices of Bitcoin have a service life of only about 1.5 years [58], and after that, they serve no practical purpose anymore because they can only calculate SHA256d hashes. Bitcoin mining generates 30.7 metric kilotons of e-waste annually, per May 2021 [11]. The numbers above give a strong incentive to develop environmentally friendly methods to achieve consensus in cryptoeconomies like Ethereum and Bitcoin. ...
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... At the same time, the causality impact of the carbon credit market on bitcoin price was not confirmed. The study [78] empirically justified that cryptocurrency provoked an increase in the electricity waste, which polluted ground water and land. Thus, digital currency development requires the relevant mechanisms to overcome environmental issues through the development of alternative energy. ...
... Considering the findings and recommendations in the studies [69][70][71][72][73][74]78], crypto traders should implement innovative technology, hardware, and protocols for mining and storing cryptocurrency. It allowed eliminating the energy over-consumption and environmental degradation from crypto trading. ...
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The rapid growth of information technology and industrial revolutions provoked digital transformation of all sectors, from the government to households. Moreover, digital transformations led to the development of cryptocurrency. However, crypto trading provokes a dilemma loop. On the one hand, crypto trading led to economic development, which allowed attracting additional resources to extending smart and green technologies for de-carbonising the economic growth. On the other hand, crypto trading led to intensifying energy sources, which provoked an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation. The paper aims to analyse the connections between crypto trading, economic development of the country, renewable energy consumption, and environmental degradation. The data for analysis were obtained from: Our World in Data, World Data Bank, Eurostat, Ukrstat, Crystal Blockchain, and KOF Globalisation Index. To check the hypothesis, the paper applied the Pedroni and Kao panel cointegration tests, FMOLS and DOLS panel cointegration models, and Vector Error Correction Models. The findings concluded that the increasing crypto trading led to enhanced GDP, real gross fixed capital formation, and globalisation. However, in the long run, the relationship between crypto trading and the share of renewable energies in total energy consumption was not confirmed by the empirical results. For further directions, it is necessary to analyse the impact of crypto trading on land and water pollution.
... Apart from energy consumption, electronic waste (E-waste) produced by mining is another major environmental concern. Mining encourages the use of performance-specific hardware, such as ASICs, which becomes obsolete in approximately every 1.5 years and contributes to, as of early 2021, the average e-waste generated by Bitcoin estimated at 64.4 metric kilotons per year [12]. Similar to electricity consumption, the E-waste generated by other altcoins also needs to be considered. ...
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Following the footprints of Bitcoins, many other cryptocurrencies were developed mostly adopting the same or similar Proof-of-Work (PoW) approach. Since completing the PoW puzzle requires extremely high computing power, consuming a vast amount of electricity, PoW has been strongly criticised for its antithetic stand against the notion of green computing. Use of application-specific hardware, particularly application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) has further fuelled the debate, as these devices are of no use once they become “legacy” and hence obsolete to compete in the mining race, thus contributing to electronics waste. Therefore, this paper surveys the currently available alternative approaches to PoW and evaluates their applicability - especially their appropriateness in terms of greenness.
... This new direction provides the groundwork for reversal of a global trend of energy waste. It is anticipated that this new direction can change the trend which is having a negative planetary wide impact [43], [45]. ...
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This work introduces a novel approach for the governance of a blockchain containing social constructs and technical viability for widescale applications for the next generation of distributed ledgers. Functional requirements for this new blockchain distributed ledger (BDL) were garnered from an analysis of the needs for large-scale applications. Applied research was employed as part of this endeavor to test the practicality and scalability of the solution outline. Novel features in this application draw together controls and enforcement for cybersecurity, digital content management, licensing, and configuration management. The Synchronous Trust Consensus Model applied research project named Project Philos was sponsored by the BlockChain Development Community (BCDC) with support from the University of Colorado. Research has followed both theorized conceptual and theory-to-practice models to prove the scientific soundness and the viability of incentive for community engagement. Results show that this new model proves the feasibility of an indefinitely expandable blockchain distributed ledger capability, while also providing a new participant incentive that is highly effective in engaging a community of practitioners.
... Information technology plays a key role in modern personal and business activities, facilitated by electrical and electronic equipment (EEE). The growing possession of EEE has several benefits for society, such as enabling virtual work during the pandemic, supporting Sustainable Development Goals #4, 8 and 9 (UN General Assembly, 2015), and enabling digital currency (de Vries and Stoll, 2021). There are also negative aspects such as the (inter-) personal aspects studied by Turkle (2017) and the environmental dimensions (Eerkens et al., 2009;Hischier et al., 2020;Jonkers et al., 2016;Osibanjo and Nnorom, 2007;Williams et al., 2008;Zhang et al., 2020). ...
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Mexicali, a Mexican city located near the US-Mexico border, has faced several challenges related to adopting an integrated e-waste management system. Thus, the main objective of this work is to propose a new system to be implemented in phases. The current system is evaluated using several methodological approaches including field studies, surveys, interviews, and quantitative modeling via material flow analysis. We suggest the need to properly integrate both the formal and informal sectors to achieve the optimal system that mitigates environmental impacts while preserving the positive social and economic traits of the current system. Thus, without supplanting the current reuse, refurbishment, repair and maintenance practices, a hybrid system is proposed, based on a centralized facility that primarily handles those parts or materials that create environmental impacts and health hazards if mishandled. Furthermore, a decentralized transition phase toward the new system is recommended.
... We know from Stoll et al. [25] that bitcoin mining is using lots of energy and having a huge carbon footprint. de Vries et al. [27] found that bitcoin mining generates lots of hardware waste or e-waste. ...
... The syngas produced from the steam gasification of PCB can be a promising source to produce hydrogen [22]. Shittu et al. [23] estimated that the annual global quantity of e-waste production was 54 million tons and it is further expected to increase by 70% in the year 2050 [24]. The total plastic waste production in India is estimated as 34, 69,780 tons/year [25]. ...
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... The increasing energy consumption of Bitcoin mining has triggered a passionate debate within academic literature and among the general public regarding the sustainability of the digital currencies [3][4][5]. Old data shows that the electricity consumption caused by Bitcoin calculation alone (138 TWh) exceeds the sum of lighting and television in the United States (60 & 60 TWh), and also exceeds the national electricity consumption of Ukraine and Norway [6]. In 2018, Masanet simulated the increase in electricity growth caused by Bitcoin mining and believed that the popularity of Bitcoin would lead to uncontrollable global temperature changes [7]. ...
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The energy consumption and carbon footprint of cryptocurrencies have always been a popular topic. However, most of the existing studies only focus on one cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, and there is a lack of long-term monitoring studies that summarize all cryptocurrencies. By constructing a time series hash rate/power model, this research obtained the 10-year time series data on energy consumption dataset of global top-25 cryptocurrencies for the first time. Both the temporal coverage and the spatiotemporal resolution of the data exceed previous studies. The results show that Bitcoin’s power consumption only accounts for 58% of the top-25 cryptocurrencies. After China bans cryptocurrencies, the conservative change in global CO2 emissions from 2020 will be between −0.4% and 4.4%, and Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan are likely to become areas of rapid growth in carbon emissions from cryptocurrencies.
... Direction 6: Investigate alternative consensus mechanisms based on proof of useful work Given the perception of PoW being a waste of a DLT network's computational power (eg, references [70][71][72] ) alternate consensus mechanisms that build on PoUW seem like a promising approach to redirect and utilize the computational power of a DLT network for other, meaningful purposes. Despite first proposals for the use of PoUW in the genomics context, 12 there still remain many open questions regarding its specific advantages and disadvantages or suitable tasks for PoUW in this context. ...
Article
Full-text available
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... 25 In addition, non-functional and scrapped mining equipment added an annual 30.7 metric kilotons of e-waste as of May 2021. 26 Renewable-powered bitcoin mining farms can be interesting to investigate as they can provide tangible support to balance energy supply and demand and reduce carbon emissions to a great extent. However, due to the massive investments needed for renewable infrastructure, comprehensive analysis in terms of cost benefits and environmental sustainability is required. ...
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The Global E-waste Monitor 2020 provides the most comprehensive overview of the global e-waste challenge, explains how it fits into international efforts to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, and discusses how to create a sustainable society and circular economy. The report provides a national and regional analysis on e-waste quantities and legislative instruments, and makes predictions until 2030. It also encourages decision-makers to increase activities to measure and monitor e-waste using an internationally recognised methodological framework. Visit https://globalewaste.org/ for more information.
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Bitcoin is a power-hungry cryptocurrency that is increasingly used as an investment and payment system. Here we show that projected Bitcoin usage, should it follow the rate of adoption of other broadly adopted technologies, could alone produce enough CO2 emissions to push warming above 2 °C within less than three decades.
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The electrical efficiency of computation has doubled roughly every year and a half for more than six decades, a pace of change comparable to that for computer performance and electrical efficiency in the microprocessor era. These efficiency improvements enabled the creation of laptops, smart phones, wireless sensors, and other mobile computing devices, with many more such innovations yet to come. The Web Extra appendix outlines the data and methods used in this study.
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In this paper the environmental problems related with the discarded electronic appliances, known as e-waste, are reviewed.Moreover, the current and the future production of e-waste, the potential environmental problems associated with theirdisposal and management practices are discussed whereas the existing e-waste management schemes in Greece and othercountries (Japan, Switzerland) are also quoted.
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The digital currency Bitcoin is known for its energy hunger and associated carbon footprint. Investors, how-ever, must not neglect further environmental, social, and governance issues related to digital currencies. Therefore, we urge the adoption of a more comprehensive view in assessing the externalities of investments in Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.
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Ulrich Gallersdörfer is a research associate in the Department of Informatics at the Technical University of Munich. His research focuses on identity management in blockchains. His interest extends to further aspects of the technology, ranging from environmental implications to data analytics applications. Lena Klaaßen is a graduate student at TUM School of Management at the Technical University of Munich. She is specialized in energy markets and accounting. Her research focuses on carbon accounting in the corporate and cryptocurrency space. She has previously analyzed blockchain-related firms for a venture capital fund. Christian Stoll conducts research at the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at the Center for Energy Markets of the Technical University of Munich. His research focuses on the implications of climate change from an economic point of view.
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As the resource intensity of running Bitcoin has increased over recent years, it has become a serious concern for its potential impact on health and climate. Within this context, there exists a growing need for accurate information. Various organizations need this for multiple purposes like properly assessing the urgency of the problem, implementing the right policy response in the right locations and for setting up mitigation programs. We propose a market dynamics approach to evaluate the current methods for obtaining information on Bitcoin's energy demand. This allows us to establish that, while historically the Bitcoin mining industry has been growing most of the time, this growth allows market participants to pursue strategies that don't necessarily involve the best devices, device settings, or locations. The bigger the profitability of mining, the more it allows market participants to make decisions that result in suboptimal power efficiency of the Bitcoin network. Specifically, while the profitability of mining peaked during 2019, we find that market participants primarily used older generations of devices with better availability and lower acquisition costs. Common estimation approaches don't only fail to capture this behavior, but also fail to properly capture the market circumstances, like seasonal and geographic variation in electricity prices, that help enable participants to do so in the first place. This combination leaves common approaches prone to providing optimistic estimates during growth cycles. We conservatively estimate the Bitcoin network to consume 87.1 TWh of electrical energy annually per September 30, 2019 (equaling a country like Belgium).
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Participation in the Bitcoin blockchain validation process requires specialized hardware and vast amounts of electricity, which translates into a significant carbon footprint. Here, we demonstrate a methodology for estimating the power consumption associated with Bitcoin’s blockchain based on IPO filings of major hardware manufacturers, insights on mining facility operations, and mining pool compositions. We then translate our power consumption estimate into carbon emissions, using the localization of IP addresses. We determine the annual electricity consumption of Bitcoin, as of November 2018, to be 45.8 TWh and estimate that annual carbon emissions range from 22.0 to 22.9 MtCO2. This means that the emissions produced by Bitcoin sit between the levels produced by the nations of Jordan and Sri Lanka, which is comparable to the level of Kansas City. With this article, we aim to gauge the external costs of Bitcoin and inform the broader debate on the costs and benefits of cryptocurrencies.
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In this paper we find that the Bitcoin network, with an electrical energy footprint of 491.4 to 765.4 kWh per transaction on average, is relatively much more energy-hungry than the traditional financial system. Even though it has been argued that renewable energy may help mitigating the environmental impact of this, we find that there exist fundamental challenges in uniting variable renewable energy production with the consistent demand of Bitcoin mining machines. Moreover, we find that the environmental impact of Bitcoin mining reaches beyond its energy use. Continuous increasing energy (cost) efficiency of newer iterations of mining devices ensures that older ones will inevitably be disposed on a regular basis. The resulting electronic waste generation could equal that of a small country like Luxembourg, with a staggering average footprint of four light bulbs worth of electronic waste per processed Bitcoin transaction. Bitcoin will therefore have to address its sustainability problem in another way. This may consist of replacing its mining mechanism with a greener alternative like Proof-of-Stake.
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Blockchain technology rapidly gained popularity based on its open and decentralized operation. Consensus protocol is the core mechanism of a blockchain network that securely maintains the distributed ledger from possible attacks from adversaries. Proof-of-Work (PoW) is a commonly used consensus protocol that requires a significant amount of computation to find a new valid block. As the application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) that are specially designed for PoW computation begin to dominate blockchain consensus operation, the decentralized nature of blockchain networks is being threatened. Many PoW mechanisms are being proposed to disincentivize the use of ASICs in the consensus operation. Employing multiple hash functions in the PoW computation (i.e., multi-hash PoW) is one of the commonly adopted approaches to achieve such ASIC-resistance. In this work, we experimentally evaluate the level of ASIC-resistance of the multi-hash PoW mechanisms. We assess the level of ASIC-resistance based on the performance gap between ASICs and general-purpose computing platforms. Contrary to the expectation of the multi-hash PoW mechanisms, our results reveal that ASIC-resistance of these PoW mechanisms is not strong enough to prevent ASIC-based mining. Most of them show similar levels of ASIC-resistance as those of PoW mechanisms that are already defeated by ASIC-based systems.
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Since its deployment in 2009, Bitcoin has achieved remarkable success and spawned hundreds of other cryptocurrencies. The author traces the evolution of the hardware underlying the system, from early GPU-based homebrew machines to today’s datacenters powered by application-specific integrated circuits. These ASIC clouds provide a glimpse into planet-scale computing’s future.
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GPU- and FPGA-based clouds have been deployed to accelerate computationally intensive workloads. ASIC-based clouds are a natural evolution as cloud services expand across the planet. ASIC Clouds are purpose-built datacenters comprising large arrays of ASIC accelerators that optimize the total cost of ownership (TCO) of large, high-volume scale-out computations. On the surface, ASIC Clouds may seem improbable due to high nonrecurring engineering (NRE) costs and ASIC inflexibility, but large-scale ASIC Clouds have been deployed for the Bitcoin cryptocurrency system. This article distills lessons from these Bitcoin ASIC Clouds and applies them to other large-scale workloads, including YouTube-style video-transcoding and Deep Learning, showing superior TCO versus CPU and GPU. It derives Pareto-optimal ASIC Cloud servers based on accelerator properties, by jointly optimizing ASIC architecture, DRAM, motherboard, power delivery, cooling, and operating voltage. Finally, the authors examine the impact of ASIC NRE and when it makes sense to build an ASIC Cloud.
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As bitcoin becomes more important as a worldwide financial phenomenon, it also becomes important to understand its sources of value formation. There are three ways to obtain bitcoins: buy them outright, accept them in exchange, or else produce them by 'mining'. Mining employs computational effort which requires electrical consumption for operation. The cost of electricity per kWh, the efficiency of mining as measured by watts per unit of mining effort, the market price of bitcoin, and the difficulty of mining all matter in making the decision to produce. Bitcoin production seems to resemble a competitive market, so in theory miners will produce until their marginal costs equal their marginal product. Break-even points are modeled for market price, energy cost, efficiency and difficulty to produce. The cost of production price may represent a theoretical value around which market prices tend to gravitate. As the average efficiency increases over time due to competition driving technological progress – as inefficient capital becomes obsolete it is removed while new capital replaces them – the break-even production cost of bitcoins denominated in dollars will fall. Increased efficiency, although necessary to maintain competitive advantage over other miners could serve to drive the value of bitcoin down, however adjustments in the mining difficulty and the regular halving of the block reward throughout time will tend to counteract a decreasing tendency in cost of production.
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Waste electrical and electronic equipment (or e-waste) is one of the fastest growing waste streams, which encompasses a wide and increasing spectrum of products. Accurate estimation of e-waste generation is difficult, mainly due to lack of high quality data referred to market and socio-economic dynamics. This paper addresses how to enhance e-waste estimates by providing techniques to increase data quality. An advanced, flexible and multivariate Input-Output Analysis (IOA) method is proposed. It links all three pillars in IOA (product sales, stock and lifespan profiles) to construct mathematical relationships between various data points. By applying this method, the data consolidation steps can generate more accurate time-series datasets from available data pool. This can consequently increase the reliability of e-waste estimates compared to the approach without data processing. A case study in the Netherlands is used to apply the advanced IOA model. As a result, for the first time ever, complete datasets of all three variables for estimating all types of e-waste have been obtained. The result of this study also demonstrates significant disparity between various estimation models, arising from the use of data under different conditions. It shows the importance of applying multivariate approach and multiple sources to improve data quality for modelling, specifically using appropriate time-varying lifespan parameters. Following the case study, a roadmap with a procedural guideline is provided to enhance e-waste estimation studies.
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A purely peer-to-peer version of electronic cash would allow online payments to be sent directly from one party to another without going through a financial institution. Digital signatures provide part of the solution, but the main benefits are lost if a trusted third party is still required to prevent double-spending. We propose a solution to the double-spending problem using a peer-to-peer network. The network timestamps transactions by hashing them into an ongoing chain of hash-based proof-of-work, forming a record that cannot be changed without redoing the proof-of-work. The longest chain not only serves as proof of the sequence of events witnessed, but proof that it came from the largest pool of CPU power. As long as a majority of CPU power is controlled by nodes that are not cooperating to attack the network, they'll generate the longest chain and outpace attackers. The network itself requires minimal structure. Messages are broadcast on a best effort basis, and nodes can leave and rejoin the network at will, accepting the longest proof-of-work chain as proof of what happened while they were gone.
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