Huge concrete data centres, permanently plugged into power plants and telephone exchanges, maintain much of online life. But the infrastructure behind internet-based cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Dogecoin and Ethereum is more like a rusty travelling circus. And right now, that circus is on the road.
Bitcoin relies on a network of millions of specialist machines, known as miners, around 70% of which are currently based in China. Like a never-ending game of Hungry Hippos, each player hammers their mining machines 24/7 to try and scoop up as many bitcoins as possible. With only a few hippos, its easy for everyone to be a winner. But with around 2.5 million miners chasing an ever-shrinking number of prizes, the game is becoming increasingly difficult.
Bitcoin’s booming popularity has caused its electricity demand to swell. With no central planning, a perpetual arms race for equipment continues, creating 15,000 tonnes of burned-out electronic waste annually.