How Cow Poop Is Powering Crypto Mining

At Philip Hughes’ farm near the Berwyn range not far from Snowdonia National Park in Denbighshire, cattle chew the lush pastures of the valley and flocks of sheep dress the hills.

In a green shipping container next to a large domed tank, a very different kind of farm also thrives in this idyllic landscape: a cryptocurrency farm. Philip Hughes’s family has cultivated the land for generations, but now he’s mining, using powerful computers powered by renewable energy to generate new cryptocurrencies. And that energy is derived, as Philip puts it, from “cow dung.”

A large six-cylinder engine running at 500 rpm converts the methane released from decomposing cow manure into electricity. The process is called anaerobic digestion. In the absence of oxygen, microbes break down manure and produce methane, which can be burned to produce heat and electricity, rather than entering the atmosphere where it would act as a powerful greenhouse gas.

About two-thirds of the electricity generated by the anaerobic digester helps power the farm’s farm and the farm’s trailer park, but the rest powers the mining rigs, specialized computers the size of a suitcase. They are working on complex calculations that serve to verify transactions and, in return, are rewarded with a new cryptocurrency, a process that can consume large amounts of energy.

Revenues have been good, but “it depends a lot on the day you ask that question,” says Philip, winking at the notorious volatility of this digital product. Ethereum’s value has dropped from over $ 4,000 (£ 2,800) in May to roughly $ 2,400 at the time of writing. Philip has also started renting renewable energy from him. The digester-powered equipment is a mixture of your own and third-party equipment.

At a cost of around £ 18,000, each rig is packed with ‘a lot of very powerful computer graphics cards’, according to vendor Josh Riddett, who runs Easy Crypto Hunter, in Manchester. And while the energy consumption of mining Ethereum is high, it is significantly less than mining Bitcoin and can still be reduced further.

Josh has been pitching cryptocurrency mining to small-scale renewable electricity generators for some time; he says his equipment is at 42 sites covering solar, hydro and wind generators, in addition to anaerobic digestion.  But some small-scale hydro projects are cautious because they are concerned about the environmental impact of cryptocurrencies.

 

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