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Bitcoin miners seek alternative energy sources to cut costs

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During the 2021 bull market, many large mining companies took on massive loans to buy equipment and the proper infrastructure required to mine cryptocurrency. Yet the collapse of crypto exchange FTX and Celsius left many of these companies filing for bankruptcy. 

The current bear market, coupled with high Bitcoin network hash rates and low profits, has yet again left the crypto industry wondering if miners will be able to recover from losses. While this remains questionable, it’s become evident that mining companies today are focusing more on alternative energy resources to cut costs, ensure profits and, in some cases, reduce their environmental impact.

Alternative energy sources used by miners

Steven Lubka, managing director for Bitcoin-focused financial services company Swan Bitcoin, told Cointelegraph that while the average rate to mine a single Bitcoin (BTC) is around $26,000, mining companies focused on renewable energy sources are seeing rates between $5,000 and $15,000 per BTC.

A spokesperson for Riot Blockchain, a United States-based publicly traded Bitcoin mining company, told Cointelegraph that wind and solar energy generated across Texas has helped Riot ensure some of the lowest costs to mine crypto. “As stated in our Q2 investor deck, it costs Riot $8,389 to mine 1 Bitcoin,” he said.

Aerial view of Riot Blockchain’s Rockdale mining site. Source: Riot Blockchain

Kent Halliburton, president and chief operating officer of Sazmining — a hosted Bitcoin mining provider — told Cointelegraph that the biggest expense for mining has always been electricity:

“Bitcoin miners are naturally incentivized to find the lowest-cost power. Excess electricity is the lowest priced. With renewables, there is often excess electricity, which makes it a perfect fit for Bitcoin mining.”

Halliburton added that independently sourced data from the Bitcoin Mining Council shows that the Bitcoin network may indeed be one of the most sustainable industries. According to the source, 59% of mining operations are carbon-free and growing at a rate of nearly 4.5% per year.

“All of our mining operations in Wisconsin and Paraguay are utilizing excess hydroelectricity,” he said.

The shift to alternative energy sources seems to be a trend for miners thinking about long-term success. Phil Harvey, CEO of crypto mining infrastructure provider Sabre56, told Cointelegraph that the company is currently working with dozens of mining companies to get machines set up across Sabre56’s three facilities located in Wyoming and Ohio.

Saber56’s Bonepile site in Gillette, Wyoming. Source: Rachel Wolfson

Harvey explained that Sabre56’s facility in Gillette, Wyoming — known as “Bonepile” — hosts nearly 2,200 mining machines that are powered by a combination of energy sources, including a material contribution from renewable energy. The 5,200-square-foot site draws on Basin Electric’s mixed energy portfolio. According to Basin Electric’s website, this includes 24% wind, 0.6% recovered energy and 4.3% hydro, which adds up to 28.9% renewables. 

Harvey said, “The machines at our Bonepile site consist of a mixture of MicroBT Whatsminer M50s and Bitmain Antminer S19s. In terms of the site design and methodology, we leverage a forced-air design, meaning air is forced into the facility to cool the machines.”

According to Harvey, the Bonepile facility is designed to ensure surplus air provision. Harvey explained that this method reduces overheating and strain on the mining equipment while also allowing the miners to naturally exhaust hot air through overpressure.

“This is different from the standard design widespread in the mining industry, which is often extracting the hot air with an additional mechanism while not having a system in place to aid air into the facility,” he remarked.

OceanBit, a company developing renewable energy platforms using ocean thermal sources, is taking a different approach. Michael Bennett, co-founder of OceanBit, told Cointelegraph that the company is integrating Bitcoin mining into its ocean thermal energy power plant design. “This will allow us to balance variable loads, deliver power faster to offshore operations, and monetize excess energy to improve plant profitability,” he explained.

According to Bennett, ocean thermal energy is the largest untapped energy source on the planet. “It’s a base load source of renewable energy, like hydro or geothermal, but uses the temperature difference in ocean water to generate electricity.”

Bennett believes Bitcoin is the missing piece needed to scale the energy source to global adoption since it solves a number of ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC) commercial challenges.

Diagram of OceanBit’s thermodynamic cycle. Source: OceanBit

Nathaniel Harmon, co-founder and CEO of OceanBit, elaborated, “The byproduct of OTEC generation process is four degrees Celsius cold water, which makes it ideal for cooling ASICs, while the byproduct of ASICs is low grade heat, which makes it ideal to use in the OTEC process. The combination increases the efficiency while decreasing the cost of both.” 

Bennett shared that OceanBit plans to unveil its R&D power plant in Hawaii in 2024.

Some alternative energy sources are controversial

Pennsylvanian crypto mining company Stronghold Digital Mining is using coal refuse to power its mining operations. 

This refuse — also known as gob, culm or boney — is the result of the refining process of coal mining. These unrefined bits of coal mixed with shale, slate or other impurities are piled on thousands of acres of abandoned mine lands in Pennsylvania.

Greg Beard, CEO of Stronghold Digital Mining, told Cointelegraph that his firm is working with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and local environmental authorities to clean up piles of waste coal and use them to power Bitcoin mining operations.

He said, “Acid mine drainage from these piles is one of the largest sources of water pollution in Pennsylvania. The waste piles have also been catching fire for decades by way of spontaneous combustion, releasing toxic pollution into the air. Stronghold converts the coal refuse into power by way of specialized facilities and then either supplies the power to the local grid or uses the power to mine Bitcoin.”

“Bitcoin mining is required to continue the waste coal cleanup activities, making it a much more efficient operation than miners seeking out power sources,” added Beard.

While this does provide a method of cleaning up the tons of coal refuse, from an environmental perspective, it also poses something of a Catch 22.

The special plants that can use refuse coal are still burning hydrocarbons. The Pennsylvania arm of the Energy Justice Network project has even contended that refuse coal-firing plants pollute more than new coal plants.

Stronghold itself further came under the scrutiny of environmental groups when it applied for a permit to burn tire-derived fuel at its Panther Creek plant. 

Clean Air Council activist Russell Zerbo recently said on a podcast that the plant “uses the electricity it produces to generate cryptocurrency; rather than selling that electricity to the energy grid, the plant should be completely repermitted as a solid waste incinerator that would be subject to increased air pollution monitoring requirements.”

Challenges for miners may hamper adoption 

While it’s notable that crypto mining companies are using alternative energy sources, certain challenges could hamper adoption. Halliburton claimed that misinformation regarding alternative energy sources is common:

“Local populaces may throw-up roadblocks because they don’t realize that Bitcoin miners are providing a net benefit to their local communities through job creation and monetizing wasted or excess electricity. Electricity is also misunderstood; it’s extremely expensive to store, and if electricity is not utilized or stored when it’s generated, it gets wasted — quite literally put into the earth.”

Moreover, the challenges that come along with using renewable energy are also evident. Harvey mentioned that the altitude of Gillette, Wyoming results in much thinner air quality. As such, the machines at Sabre56’s Bonepile facility can struggle with pulling in enough air required for cooling.

Then comes the challenge of thermal pollution, as hot air is released into the atmosphere from the mining machines, which Cointelegraph witnessed firsthand at the Bonepile site in Wyoming. Given this, some mining companies are finding unique ways to reuse heat production. For instance, Genesis Digital Assets uses hot air produced by mining equipment to grow vegetables in the Nordic regions.

Heat from mining machines is used to grow plants inside a greenhouse. Source: Genesis Digital Assets

All things considered, the future of mining operations will likely rely on renewable sources. Margie Feng, head of marketing at Bitmain — a leading producer of crypto mining equipment — told Cointelegraph that the company has shifted gears and is currently working hard on promoting hydro-cooling technologies, as she believes that demands for this type of equipment will only grow in the future. 

Feng added that Bitmain has found that almost a quarter of all Bitcoin miners use water to power their setups, while wind and nuclear are the second- and third-biggest contributions, respectively.


ETF filings changed the Bitcoin narrative overnight — Ledger CEO

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Over the past 12 months, some investors learned the hard way why they needed to move their crypto offline. Those who kept Bitcoin (BTC) and altcoins on crypto exchanges like FTX lost control of their assets, sometimes forever. Events drew a red line under the storied crypto adage: “Not your keys, not your coins.” 

FTX’s loss was hardware wallet manufacturer Ledger’s gain, however. The Bahamas-based exchange’s November 2022 bankruptcy filing delivered to Ledger “our biggest sales day ever,” the firm’s chief experience officer, Ian Rogers, told Cointelegraph, and “November turned out to be our biggest sales month on record.”

Paris-based Ledger has been on a strong growth curve recently, though the past year has not been without controversy. In May, for instance, the firm drew industry ire when it launched a new secret recovery phrase storage service called Ledger Recover. Still, it remains one of the best-known and most-used crypto wallet makers in the world.

Cointelegraph recently caught up with Rogers and Ledger CEO Pascal Gauthier in New York City to discuss the new crypto climate in the United States, the latest trends in crypto storage and differences in doing business in the U.S. and Europe, among other topics.

Cointelegraph: Many think that the crypto/blockchain sector is still in the doldrums or moving sideways at best, but you see reasons to be cheerful even here in the U.S.?

Pascal Gauthier: What happened in 2023 — and went virtually unnoticed — is a change of tone regarding Bitcoin. When the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission] implied that Bitcoin was a utility and/or commodity — and not a security [like other altcoins] — this triggered two things: large companies like BlackRock began their ETF [exchange-traded fund] application process, and then the media narrative around Bitcoin changed almost overnight.

As 2023 began, Bitcoin was for drug dealers, terrorists, bad for the planet, etc. — and suddenly it became completely kosher. The biggest financial institutions in the U.S. are suddenly doing Bitcoin.

CT: The BlackRock application for a spot-market Bitcoin ETF was a turning point?

PG: Big money is coming into crypto; it’s been announced. It may take a few years to really finally arrive, but if you look at Fidelity, BlackRock, Vanguard…

CT: What about U.S. regulations? Aren’t they still a barrier?

PG: The next administration will decide the fate of crypto in the United States. If Biden stays in power, this administration could continue to be aggressive toward crypto. If it’s someone else, we’ll see what happens.

CT: Let’s talk about offline storage devices. Mark Cuban said in 2022 that crypto wallets were “awful.” Did he have a point?

PG: A lot of our early customers used our [cold wallet] product to “buy and hold.” You would purchase a Ledger [device], you put your Bitcoin in it, and then you put it someplace and forget about it. But that’s not what we recommend now.

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Today, you can connect your wallet to Web3 and use your private keys to do many things, including buying, selling, swapping and staking crypto, as well as engaging with DApps [decentralized applications] and even declaring your taxes.

CT: On a 1 to 10 scale, where would you put cold wallets today in terms of user experience (UX)?

PG: For the industry, it’s a three. For Ledger, maybe a four — and we’re striving to be a 10. The industry has a lot to do in terms of UX and UI [user interface].

Ian Rogers: Your hardware-software combo today is not just about hardware and software. It’s an end-to-end experience.

When you’re buying an Apple iPhone, for instance, you’re not buying a piece of hardware; you’re buying into the Apple experience. We would ultimately like that to be the same thing with Ledger. Our approach is to do the absolute best user experience possible without compromising on security or self-custody.

CT: Still, there’s these UX issues like the 24 seed words you need to recover your private key if you lose your Ledger device. Some users go to great lengths to safeguard those words, even engraving them in steel just in case their house burns down. Doesn’t that sound sort of extreme?

PG: It is a little backwards to have something like a metal plate in your home. It’s not very 21st century. But we came up with a solution for this.

Gauthier (center) speaking at the Viva Technology conference. Source: X

When you use a Ledger product, you end up with your Ledger device and a PIN code. And you will also have those 24 words that become your master password, basically. You need to keep those 24 words safe, and this is a major barrier to entry for a lot of people. They don’t trust themselves with those 24 words. They don’t trust themselves not to lose them.

So, we came up with a service called Ledger Recover [i.e., an optional paid subscription service provided by Coincover that is expected to launch in October] to deal with that. It allows you to shard your private key into three encrypted shards and then send them to three different custodians. They cannot do anything with the [single] encrypted shard. Only you can bring your 24 words together again if necessary.

CT: Don’t we already have something like that with “social recovery,” where you entrust your cold wallet recovery to several friends or “guardians?”

PG: Social recovery doesn’t really work. We’ve done something that resembles social recovery — but with businesses [i.e., Ledger, Coincover and EscrowTech]. You will have to present your ID if you want to initiate the shard recovery.

CT: You were criticized when you first announced the Ledger Recover service in May. Then, the launch was postponed amid the “backlash.” There were security concerns. People said these three shard-holding companies could reconstruct your private key.

PG: There is still a lot of education to be done for people to understand really how security works. People said [at that time] that it might be a good product if it were more transparent and easier to adopt. So we didn’t go live in May, as planned, in order to make the product ‘open source,’ which adds something in terms of transparency though not security,

CT: But couldn’t three sub-custodial companies, at least in theory, collaborate and reconstruct your privacy key?

PG: It’s not possible. They don’t have the necessary tools necessary to decrypt and reconstruct.

CT: Moving on to Ledger’s business model, do you sometimes worry that as big institutions like Fidelity Investments or banks like BNY Mellon enter the crypto space that users may simply park their crypto with them? If they get hacked, those giant custodial institutions will then make them whole again. Or at least that is sometimes the thinking.

PG: We’re a pure technology company. So when Fidelity decides to become a [retail] crypto custodian, they’ll probably come to us and buy a part of our technology to build their own technology stack. 

CT: Your business strides several continents. You’re based in France, but you sell many of your devices in the United States. You have first-hand experience of those two business climates — the U.S. and Europe. Are there key differences when it comes to crypto?

PG: Europe has a tendency to over-regulate or regulate too fast, generally speaking. Sometimes people say, well, you know, Europe has clarity because it has MiCA [Markets in Crypto-Assets, the EU’s new crypto legislation], while in the U.S., there is a lack of clarity and lots of lawsuits.

But in the U.S., the way that the law is designed is slow and bumpy. It takes time to change laws in the U.S., but when change finally does come, it’s often for the better.

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If you look at the biggest tech champions in the world, they’re mostly American or Chinese. Zero are European.

CT: Are you linking heavy regulation with a lack of innovation?

PG: It’s hard to say if they are directly linked, but Europe has always had a heavy hand in terms of taxation and regulation.

Ian Rogers: To me, there’s no question they are linked. At LVMH [the French luxury goods conglomerate where Rogers served as chief digital officer for five years], we worked with a lot of startups. Every European startup wanted to get to the U.S. or China to “get scale” before they came back to Europe. Europe is not a good market if you’re a startup.

CT: But Ledger remains positive about the future of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology overall?

PG: Things are not necessarily what they seem to be. It was our [late] French president François Mitterrand, who said: “Give time for time.” There’s something going on now, and only the future will be able to make clear what is happening.

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Dirham stablecoin DRAM hits Uniswap, developed by relaunched Distributed Technologies Research

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A former MIT alumnus and SoftBank executive has launched a Dirham-backed stablecoin that aims to give countries plagued by high inflation environments exposure to assets linked to the United Arab Emirates’ native currency.

Cointelegraph reached out to Akshay Naheta, founder and CEO of Distributed Technologies Research (DTR) following the announcement of DRAM stablecoin that was listed on Decentralized Finance protocols Uniswap and PancakeSwap on Oct. 3.

The Abu Dhabi based- company has been developing the technology for a Dirham-backed stablecoin since Oct. 2022. Naheta has essentially rebooted DTR in the jurisdiction, which he had helped co-found in Switzerland in 2019.

The DRAM contract listed on Uniswap on Oct. 3. Source: Uniswap.

DRAM is an Ethereum ERC-20 token that is issued by DRAM Trust. The organization is a Hong Kong law governed trust while an independent trustee responsible for approving token mints and burns is reportedly licensed and regulated under the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.

As it stands, DTR cannot offer DRAM in Hong Kong or within the United Arab Emirates but Naheta indicates that conversations are ongoing to provide token liquidity for listing on centralized exchanges outside of those two jurisdictions.

Regulatory parameters require that Dirham fiat reserves must be deposited before any DRAM tokens can be minted, with reserves reportedly held by regulated financial institutions.

The DRAM website also provides links to the stablecoin’s smart contract addresses for Ethereum, BNB and Arbitrum. The ETH token contract reflects a max total supply of 2 million DRAM at the time of publication, while the ARB contract reflects 499,999 DRAM and the BNB contract holds 2.5 million DRAM.

A background search carried out by Cointelegraph uncovered the previous launch of Distributed Technologies Research in Switzerland four years ago.

The foundation went on to develop a decentralized payments system called Unit-e, which was designed and built by a host of academics and developers through partnerships and grants with high-profile academic institutions including Stanford, MIT and University of Illinois.

The code repository of Unit-e, last reflecting commits in 2019. Source: Github.

Cointelegraph has established that Naheta was involved in founding DTR during his tenure at SoftBank. DTR’s Unit-e project was a scalable decentralized payments network built by a Berlin-based development team.

“The original ambition back in 2019 was also to disrupt payments and to create a protocol that would have very high throughput with significant cost efficiency.”

Naheta shared details of the company’s efforts in “its previous incarnation” in a complete summary of the Unit-e protocol reviewed by University of Illinois researchers. The team now building the DRAM stablecoin features a team of around 30 permanent staff and contractors.

Naheta said that while DTR would not be able to market DRAM in the UAE, the firm expects demand from companies in the region that are grappling with high inflation and currency issues:

“The link to AED (Dirham) was driven by the strong performance and attractiveness of the UAE economy and the desire for stable, digital asset investment options around this region.”

The UAE is emerging as hub for the nascent cryptocurrency and wider Web3 space due to a favorable regulatory frameworks that aim to foster financial innovation and adoption of digital assets.

The likes of Coinbase and other major exchanges have been openly talking about future operations within the jurisdiction while industry heavyweight Binance is already operational in Dubai.

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Binance collaborates with Royal Thai Police to seize $277M from scammers

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In an announcement sent to Cointelegraph, Binance said it worked alongside law enforcement agencies, providing intelligence to disrupt the criminal group. The operation, which had the code “Trust No One,” led to the arrest of five alleged key syndicate members and the seizure of various assets worth $277 million. Over 3,200 victims have already contacted the authorities to file for compensation.

The Cyber Crime Investigation Bureau (CCIB) of the Royal Thai Police collaborated with crypto exchange Binance and United States Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) to take down a crime ring responsible for conducting a pig butchering crypto scam in Thailand. 

Police Lieutenant Colonel Thanatus Kangruambutr, an inspector at the CCIB, expressed appreciation for the crypto exchange’s contributions to the investigation. According to the inspector, the rise of crypto scams led to financial damage for residents in Thailand. The inspector explained: 

“Through prompt information exchange with key partners, including the Binance investigations team, this successful operation resulted in arrests of the criminals. Binance remains an essential ally in our combat against scams and cybercrimes.”

Binance’s head of financial crime compliance, Tigran Gambaryan, said the company will continue its partnership with various authorities worldwide as they do their part in “restoring the trust in the digital-asset ecosystem.“

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Crypto exchange Binance has collaborated with various industry actors to combat crypto-related crime. In 2022, the crypto exchange recovered and froze $450,000 of stolen assets related to the Curve Finance hack.

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