How much RAM does Antminer S9

Crypto money and no end to energy consumption ?!

Dr. Dina Barbian & Eric Gorzolla June 18, 2019

In an early epoch of mankind, goods were acquired through barter. For example, 15 mussels were exchanged for a loaf of bread. Over time, coins and banknotes were added. In the age of computers and increasingly modern infrastructure, EC cards and other "plastic money" were also developed. This finally made cashless payment possible, which is managed by banks. The mechanisms are different with crypto money: No bank is required here, because the price is regulated completely independently according to the supply-demand principle.

Probably the best-known cryptocurrency is Bitcoin. This was published in 2009. This virtual currency is "mined" by so-called miners. The encryption is carried out using blockchain technology, which is considered very secure and therefore contributes to the stability of the currency and increases trust in payment processes. In addition to the crypto currency Bitcoin, there are various others that are mentioned in the section "Crypto currencies".

In this article, the authors discuss Bitcoin and its blockchain encryption technology. Paying with Bitcoins goes hand in hand with an increasing consumption of energy and raw materials. Finally, there is an assessment of the future scenario for the crypto currency Bitcoin.

Blockchain to secure bitcoin

The foundations for blockchain technology were laid in 1991 [1]. A blockchain is based on the cryptographic chaining of different data blocks with the help of hash functions (also known as hash functions). A hash function is a mapping function that maps a large amount of data to a smaller target value. The input values ​​can have different lengths, but the output values ​​(hash values) always have the same length [2]. Another property of the hash function SHA-256 is that the hash values ​​are completely different, even if only one letter is exchanged for the input values. The following example shows the hash values ​​for "Eric" and "Erik":

4cb39c1bdf5da40bb629d3fb041a2af0c9d388370c9e5ea5369f01aa23b02589 f166226706d234dbf22ef3eda3a666a9c6a6fb249c193dd38920cc18a953dfb1

In the first line the string "Eric" is converted by the hash function SHA-256. The hash value for the word "Erik" is in the second line. Although only one letter is different for the input values, the two hash values ​​are completely different.

With Bitcoin, the miners (people or computers) try to find a hash value using mathematical equations. A blockchain consists of blocks that are represented by a hash value. New hash blocks are then calculated from the previous block and new transaction-relevant information. As a result, the blockchain is getting longer and longer *.

The size of the Bitcoin blockchain is currently 216 gigabytes (GB) (as of May 4, 2019). It can take up to two weeks to install this package on a computer. The bitcoins are stored in personal "digital wallets". The value of the cryptocurrency is regulated by supply and demand. The number of coins cannot exceed 21 million. This has been limited by the inventor who goes by the pen name Satoshi Nakamoto. It is estimated that this figure will be reached in 2130. At this point all arithmetic tasks have been solved and the Bitcoin has been used up [3].

Cryptocurrencies

In addition to Bitcoin, there are also other - lesser known - cryptocurrencies. The top 10 cryptocurrencies are shown in Fig. 1.

Cryptocurrencies are currently a welcome alternative to conventional payment methods, because these are regulated independently of the banking system. The tendency towards virtual currencies is reinforced by the prevailing zero interest rate policy, because it is not worth keeping money in a bank. In addition, anonymous online payments are often restricted by the banks, so that many people, and unfortunately also criminals, access crypto currencies and Bitcoin in particular is the currency of criminals and gamblers.

The development of hardware for cryptocurrency

The hardware components required for mining the coins have become more and more complex and expensive due to the rapid increase in computing operations. This should be illustrated using the example of Bitcoin. In the early days of the Bitcoin blockchain, you could use a laptop or desktop computer at home to dig for the bitcoins. The hardware modules used at that time were so-called ASIC miner (see Fig. 2).

This hardware was very common and was comparable to the size of a 2 euro coin. These were located in a USB hub, which supplied the components with power, whereby the energy consumption was still low and therefore the environmental impact was low. With the growth of the blockchain, it became more and more difficult to find a new block, which is why more and more computing power is required.

In Fig. 3 is the model Mining rig listed, which was in use in 2016. This shows six high-end graphics cards from Nvidia with a mainboard and two power supplies, each with an output of 1,250 watts. The use of such components already requires high energy consumption.

At the moment it is no longer possible to be involved in mining Bitcoins with standard hardware. This means any hardware that can be purchased by private individuals. In order to earn something with Bitcoin now, very special hardware is required. In Fig. 4 is the Antminer S9 shown. This is currently the top model in the crypto mining business [7].

Economy, noise development and energy consumption

The following sample calculation is intended to show in a simple income-expenditure calculation when mining for Bitcoins is worthwhile: A Antminer S9 (with 1,375 watts of power) costs around € 2,000 to purchase (without power supply). Approx. € 9.00 to € 9.50 can be earned per day (assumption for the sample calculation). The electricity costs per day at an electricity price of 23 ct per KWh are around € 7.60 (in Germany). As a result, the profit for an operating time of 24 hours is around € 1.65. In order for the acquisition costs to be amortized, the device would have to run for 1,212 days (or approx.3.32 years) in 24-hour operation *.

The noise development when operating the Antminer S9 is around 80 to 85 dB. For comparison: noises between a sound level of 40 to around 65 dB are perceived as quiet, normal and pleasant. From 80 dB a threshold is reached that is perceived as "loud" or "noise". The output of this device is 1,375 watts, in 24h operation that results in 33,000 watt hours (33kWh) energy consumption per day and per year the consumption is 12,045 kilowatt hours (kWh). For comparison: a commercially available high-performance PC has a power of approx. 500 watts. This is 1,314 kWh per year (in 12-hour operation). Thus, a single one consumes Antminer S9 as much as 9 powerful PCs *.

More and more powerful computers are needed to find the hash values ​​and to solve the arithmetic operations. That is why the miners join together to form networks or pools (see Fig. 5). In addition, mining is no longer a lucrative business. This could change, however, because the higher the price per Bitcoin, the higher the profits of the miners will be. In Fig. 6 you can see how much Bitcoin fluctuated over the past year. The lowest value here was € 2,844.43 and the top value was € 8,157.91. If one observes such fluctuations, one realizes how big such a profit margin can be.

Since the blockchain for encrypting Bitcoin is getting longer and longer, more and more computing power is needed. The power consumption through cryptomining is enormous. In November 2017, global consumption was 29.05 terawatt hours (TWh) per year. That corresponded to about 0.13 percent of the total world electricity consumption per year and exceeds the amount that z. B. Ireland needs electricity annually. In January 2018, the current electricity consumption in Bitcoin mining was already 42 terawatt hours per year. This corresponds to an increase of 12.95 terawatt hours (+12.95 TWh) or 44 percent within less than 3 months. The current Bitcoin energy requirement (June 30, 2019) is around 69.6 TWh / year - not only the value of the Bitcoin, but also the energy requirement is highly volatile *.

Bitcoin alone endangers the achievement of climate targets worldwide and is increasingly becoming an environmental catastrophe.

In comparison: The currently most powerful nuclear power plant in Europe "Chooz" is located in France and has 2 units with a net output of 1,500 megawatts each and thus generates a maximum of 13.14 TWh of energy per unit per year. So you would need around 5.3 such power plant blocks to cover the current Bitcoin energy demand. In initial projections, experts assumed that Bitcoin will need up to 140 TWh / year by July 2019 (actual status on June 30, 2019 is 69.6 TWh / year). That would be a good 3 percent (or 1.5 percent) of the electricity that is consumed in the whole of the USA per year (approx. 4,250 TWh). Bitcoin alone endangers the achievement of climate targets worldwide and is increasingly becoming an environmental catastrophe *.

The current global electricity mix consists of over 60 percent fossil fuels. The share of renewable energies is around 30 percent, the rest is nuclear energy. Most of the Bitcoin mines are where electricity is cheap, e.g. B. in Mongolia, where most of the electricity is generated by coal power. Hard coal combustion generates up to 1,080 g CO2, lignite up to 1,230 g CO2 per kilowatt hour of electricity generation [13], i. H. a 600 MW hard coal power plant unit generates approx. 740 tons of CO2 per hour. The efficiency of coal power is around 30 to 40 percent, so that 60 to 70 percent of the CO2 generated also represents pure losses without useful energy. The effects of CO2 alone are devastating for the environment. There are also some Bitcoin mines in parts of China, also operated by coal-fired power plants. In China's big cities there is increasing smog, so that you can no longer see the skyline *.

Another challenge are the raw materials that are needed to operate electronic devices. In addition to the raw materials such as coal or uranium for the power plants, the electronic components also have to be manufactured. For this, among other things, rare earths are needed. Lithium-ion batteries, for example, are used for the batteries. But coltan, from which the high-performance capacitors are made, is also very valuable. These raw materials are mined in primitive mines, sometimes by children. Many experts complain that the supply chain for these raw materials is too opaque [9]. The situation is similar with cobalt, which largely comes from the Congo, where armed conflicts are financed. The EU already pointed out so-called critical raw materials in 2014. These are always considered critical when there is a high supply risk and / or great economic importance. This is the case for a total of 27 raw materials, of which, according to the EU Commission, well over 90 percent have to be imported from the EU (see Fig. 7).

Rare earths are mined, for example, by means of acids that are used to wash out the boreholes. This leaves large amounts of toxic sludge behind and the soil permanently loses its biological activity and is therefore unsuitable for any agricultural purposes. The mud contains, among other things, thorium, uranium, heavy metals and fluorides. The remains are stored in artificial ponds. In China in particular, there is an enormous security risk due to the lack of requirements. Should these substances get into the groundwater, this could have devastating consequences for the regional water supply. Apart from this, there is an increased risk of radioactivity leakage, as many rare earths contain radioactive substances [10].

If you look at the raw material consumption by the crypto mining industry, you can quickly see the following relationship. The ones seen in Fig. 2 ASIC minerwhich are roughly the size of a 2 euro coin weigh about 40.8g. A large part of this is accounted for by the motherboard, which consists mainly of synthetic resin. The amount of rare earths in such chips is therefore relatively small. On the other hand, if you look at the next generation (see Fig. 3) you can see that the graphics cards are significantly larger. A Nvidia Quadro P5000, which is used for mining, weighs 998g. If you have 6 of them, this results in a weight of 5988g. Fig. 8 shows an open Nvidia graphics card. Such models can exceed a length of 30cm. The width is sometimes over 10cm. If you compare this card with a 2-euro-piece miner, it quickly becomes apparent that a lot more raw materials are required, because every component in the picture has rare earths.

A Antminer S9 (Fig. 4) weighs 4,600g per unit. That's 113 times one ASIC miners. It should be noted that a large part is made up of the metal shell. In spite of all this, significantly more raw materials are required for such an apparatus. In order to mine efficiently, special chipsets are required that are optimized to perform these calculations.

Future prospects

Finally, we will investigate the extent to which cryptomining can be realized through renewable energies alone and what a trend with the cryptocurrency could look like as a result? Since the Bitcoin currency is not monitored by any institute or official organization, the price of the coins is regulated by the supply and demand principle.

Some experts believe that Bitcoin is just a fad and that trend could change again quickly. In view of the fluctuations shown in Fig. 6, there is every reason to do so. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. has issued an urgent warning of a Bitcoin bubble. They denounce that a Bitcoin transaction can take up to ten days. Often you will find very different prices for the same item in the individual shops that accept Bitcoin [12].

With a view to the current trend, many the question arises as to whether the virtual currency could not also be operated in such a way that it does not harm the environment so much. The share of renewable energies worldwide is more than 5,000 TWh. This number includes the estimated 140 TWh energy requirements for Bitcoin several times. Even just the share of wind energy would be enough to cover Bitcoin electricity consumption *.

On the one hand, it is fascinating and frightening to see how some computer scientists were able to turn the banking system upside down with a technically simple technique. On the other hand, blockchain technology is very promising and therefore also very interesting for an industrial context. The reason that z. B. Goldman Sachs, which is sometimes skeptical about Bitcoin, is that you are afraid of something that you cannot control. Some people in the Bitcoin community even see the price of a Bitcoin at some point close to a million, which - at least in the Bitcoin sector - would mean hyperdeflation with all its disadvantages. Whether this is ultimately the case remains to be seen *.

With Bitcoin, the mathematical puzzle that has to be solved ensures that a new block is only found every 10 minutes. The time it takes to calculate a new block always adapts to the number of miners, so that the 10-minute time intervals remain roughly unchanged. The hardware development in the direction of Bitcoin mining devices is terrifying. More and more hardware is required and thus more and more raw materials. If nothing changes in the mining process for many critical raw materials, serious environmental damage is inevitable. Not to be forgotten are the damage that people suffer due to the exorbitant demand for such hardware devices. Furthermore, the prices of graphics cards in the consumer area have risen sharply. A card that used to cost € 250 now costs well over € 500. Since the raw materials for such devices are also found in cell phones, price increases cannot be ruled out here either *.

On the other hand, coins and bills must also be produced. Bitcoin could therefore be an opportunity for a future in which these raw materials could also be saved. For example, if one had mobile payment systems for everyone, such as B. via smartphone, it would be possible to steer this trend in the right direction. Furthermore, a non-limited or an extremely large blockchain might make sense for such a project. Should there be a sensible method of administering this by then, under certain circumstances supervision could be passed on to an official institution. However, this would limit anonymity. With this approach it would also be possible to control energy consumption for mining. Since the miners only have a limited lifespan, a lot of electronic waste is generated; a coordinated recycling strategy would make sense. So old miners could be the basis for new ones.

Revision of the article

* The original version of the article contained some ambiguities and incorrect data.The text was then extensively revised by the authors. The changed passages were marked with a *.

Eric Gorzolla

Eric studies computer science at the Technical University in Nuremberg. His interests lie in cryptography, server administration and IT security.
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Dr. Dina Barbian

Dr. Dina Barbian heads the Institute for Sustainability in Nuremberg and gives lectures at the interface to digitization and sustainability.
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