Hotspot volcanoes

How volcanoes can help clean up crypto mining

President of El Salvador Nayib Bukele has made headlines for two reasons: his intention to harness geothermal energy as an alternative energy source and to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender.

President Bukele tweeted that he had “instructed the president of LaGeoSV to put in place a plan to provide facilities for Bitcoin mining energy from our volcanoes” because he legalized Bitcoin as another form of digital currency in El Salvador.

If El Salvador is successful in this project, it could be a game-changer for crypto mining.

How it works?

“Geothermal” comes from two Latin words; geo meaning earth, and thermal baths meaning heat. The source of geothermal energy is underground steam and water found near volcanoes which are heated to supercritical levels.

Scientists have been harnessing volcanic energy or geothermal energy since 2009.

Is it the same as hot springs?

Yes. The ancient Greeks used groundwater for hot springs. Today it is used to generate electricity. The United States is the first producer followed by New Zealand and the Philippines.

Geothermal energy, like solar and wind power, is one of the greenest energies in the world because it releases less than 97% sulfur and 99% carbon dioxide compared to fossil fuels.

Types of geothermal power plants

There are four types of plants currently in use around the world. Countries that invest in these factories know they could last more than 20 years.

Dry steam plant is one of the oldest plants available. It allows hot water to shoot up from the ground to drive a turbine and releases steam along with small amounts of other gases.

Flash steam pumps water at high pressure into a tank at lower pressure, which vaporizes the liquid and operates the installation. Any residual liquid is flashed again into another tank. This generates more potency and is the most common herb found today.

Binary cycle is a plant that uses an underground fluid to heat a secondary liquid turning the secondary liquid into gas, which in turn runs the plant. This could be the future as most geothermal resources are below 300 degrees Fahrenheit (148 degrees Celsius).

Improved geothermal system (EMS) injects water into hot underground rocks to produce steam, then hot gas runs it. These EGS systems can help countries use their geothermal reservoirs.

How did it start?

Icelandic scientists have carried out an experiment to harness energy directly from a volcano. In 2009, scientists attempted to drill into a reservoir of hotter water than anything man calls it called supercritical hit magma. The plans had to be abandoned when they reached magma. Under the magma hides the supercritical.

Refusing to give up, they believed that the water would seep into the reservoir through the cracks formed in the magma due to the drilling. Two years later, they discovered that the hole they had drilled had on its own formed a usable hot water tank.

Scientists were able to draw water from the well at 450 degrees Celsius (842 degrees Fahrenheit). While 450 degrees Celsius is not considered supercritical, it could produce 36 megawatts of electricity, far less than, say, conventional coal-based electricity.

What started as a well in Iceland has grown. It is estimated that only a fraction of Iceland’s geothermal resources have been exploited. The potential is so huge that Iceland can become Europe’s renewable powerhouse.

What is Bitcoin mining?

Bitcoin mining is a method of generating new coins that computers use to solve complex mathematical formulas or puzzles. As cryptocurrencies are built on a decentralized network, coins must be mined to work. The mining software takes about 10 minutes for people on the network to solve the complex program and process a block.

Bitcoins are traded on crypto exchanges 24/7 without interruption. Environmentalists and activists have raised concerns about the detrimental effects and how cryptocurrency uses fossil fuels.

As the price of Bitcoin rises, the amount of energy consumed also increases as more and more users join the network and more mining is undertaken. A study from the University of Cambridge said that Bitcoins consume more than 120 terawatt hours (Twh) each year.

El Salvador and Bitcoin mining

El Salvador is known as the “land of volcanoes” in Central America. Geothermal energy contributed 21.7% of total electricity production there and was the second largest source of renewable energy last year. With Bitcoin now legal tender, mining bitcoin will require a lot more energy.

(Edited by : Shoma bhattacharjee)