Cryptocurrency mining is hugely energy intensive, and with the United States now the leading source of Bitcoin production, companies are looking to nuclear plants to power their operations
The global Bitcoin mining network consumed an estimated 67TWh of electricity in 2020, according to Cambridge university’s Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index (BECI). This has already been surpassed in 2021, with an estimated 89.3TWh of electricity consumed over the first ten months of this year. And as cryptocurrency grows in profitability, gains mainstream acceptance and becomes more widely accepted, this demand is likely to continue.
Historically, most Bitcoin mining operations have been centred in China. But in May 2021 China’s State Council banned cryptocurrency mining and trading, citing environmental and financial concerns.
The US is now the leading source of Bitcoin production. In August, US miners accounted for a 35.4% share of the average monthly hashrate, according to data from BECI.
At the same time, there has also been growing interest in the environmental and social aspects of Bitcoin mining.
In May, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla announced the company had suspended vehicle purchases using Bitcoin, saying in a tweet: “We are concerned about rapidly increasing use of fossil fuels for Bitcoin mining and transactions, especially coal, which has the worst emissions of any fuel.” “Cryptocurrency is a good idea on many levels…but this cannot come at a great cost to the environment.”
As consumers and shareholders get more serious about issues like climate change and sustainability, companies are starting to take actions to address these concerns.
Energy Harbor entered into a five-year partnership with Standard Power to provide electricity from its nuclear fleet to Standard Power’s new Bitcoin mining centre in Coshocton, Ohio from December 2021. As well as bringing jobs to the region by repurposing an abandoned Ohio paper mill, the agreement is helping Standard Power achieve it’s sustainability goals.
“Bitcoin blockchain mining centres are energy intensive, and we recognise our responsibility to build a more environmentally sustainable future,” commented Maxim Serezhin, Standard Power’s chief executive officer. “We selected Ohio because of its low electricity costs with availability of carbon-free sources of energy.”
Another US power company, Talen Energy, formed Cumulus Data in 2020 to ‘invest in opportunities created by the convergence of digital infrastructure and power.’
Talen Energy is planning to develop the Susquehanna Hyperscale Campus (SHC), a nuclear-powered cryptomining facility and data centre on undeveloped land adjacent to its 2494MWe Susquehanna nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania.
The facility, which is due to come online in the second quarter of 2022, will initially have capacity of 164MW, rising to 300MW when complete. Delivery of on-site power will be supported by the two nuclear units and two independent substations. There is further potential to expand to 1GW capacity in the future if needed, Talen says.
Linxon has been contracted to supply a turnkey solution utilising products from Hitachi Energy for the 500/69kV Gas Insulated Substation (GIS), the 230/69kV GIS and hybrid substations, requiring fast track design, engineering, permitting, civil work, procurement, construction and commissioning activities. GSE DP Engineering announced it will prepare design modifications to address the connection of new transmission lines into existing 230kV and 500kV lines currently serving the main switchyards at the facility.
Talen has entered into a joint venture with TeraWulf, a US-based bitcoin mining company, to develop the bitcoin mining capacity. The joint venture, Nautilus Cryptomine, will leverage the strengths of both companies as they collectively work to advance the convergence of clean energy sources and digital infrastructure assets.
The JV expects to invest around $350-400 million in Phase I of the operation with an aggregate anticipated hash rate that will exceed 5 exahash per second. It says the facility, located “behind the meter” directly connected to Susquehanna, will provide Nautilus Cryptomine with one of the lowest electricity costs among publicly traded bitcoin mining peers in the USA.
An advanced reactor vision
US-based Oklo in July announced a 20-year commercial partnership with Compass Mining, the world’s first online marketplace for Bitcoin mining hardware and hosting. With increasing power consumption from bitcoin mining, the partnership between Oklo and Compass aims to introduce advanced fission to supplement fossil fuels and promote diversity and sustainability in the energy sources used by miners.
Oklo says its advanced fission powerhouses will provide baseload power for Compass’s Bitcoin mining machines, starting in the “early 2020s”. Oklo is committed to supplying at least 150MW of power to Compass in the first phase of this partnership, but notes that the project is scalable and that it can add further capacity to accelerate sustainable mining efforts.
Oklo’s Aurora powerhouse, unveiled in December 2019, is a 1.5MW fast neutron reactor that uses heat pipes to transport heat from the reactor core to a supercritical carbon dioxide power conversion system to generate electricity. It is currently the only reactor undergoing active licensing review by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), with the first unit expected to be built at Idaho National Laboratory (INL).
Aurora will run on metallic high-assay low-enriched uranium (HALEU) fuel. Fuel material awarded by INL is expected to fuel Oklo’s first power plant, while near-term power plant deployment will be fuelled by US-based Centrus Energy Corp. In November, Oklo signed a non-binding Letter of Intent to cooperate with Centrus in the development of a HALEU production facility. Centrus is building the USA’s first licensed HALEU production facility in Piketon, Ohio with the goal to start demonstrating production in 2022.
“We are proud to blaze new trails on the commercialisation of our powerhouses by partnering with Compass in decarbonising Bitcoin,” says Oklo co-founder and CEO Jacob DeWitte. “Cryptocurrency mining offers promising pathways to accelerate the deployment of clean energy technologies, and Oklo is positioned to respond to commercial demands by offering end-users the convenience of buying clean, reliable, and cost-effective power that they can depend on.”
And it’s not just the nuclear industry that miners are looking to. As cryptocurrency gains mainstream acceptance, it is becoming increasingly important for the industry to align with the momentum building behind Environmental, Social, and Governance commitments at large corporations.
Global Bitcoin self-mining company Bitfarms Ltd recently announced it is entering the hydropower arena having acquired a 24MW farm in Washington state, USA. At the same time, it inked an MOU with the project’s seller to codevelop additional hydropower in the region, increasing total mining capacity up to 99MW in Washington.